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The Supreme Court told the Election Commission to increase the count of slips for VVPAT (Voter Verified Paper Trail Audit) machines in the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections.
Asked why the Commission did not increase the number or VVPATs for counting and tallying it with EVM on its own, the court asked it to explain within three days what difficulties it was facing in this regard.
Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi stated "We want you to increase the counting of VVPAT slips. Right now, you are counting only one VVPAT in one polling station. On your own, can you increase this number."
The court will hear the plea filed by 21 opposition leaders, led by Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu, seeking that VVPAT slips of at least 50 percent of voting machines in each assembly constituency be checked randomly in the Lok Sabha elections next month.
The bench asked the EC to file its reply on affidavit indicating the reasons of its satisfaction that purity of elections can be maintained and is being maintained.
Reportedly, the bench said "The Election Commission of India (EC) is fully satisfied that the purity of the elections can be maintained and is being maintained. The Election Commission of India shall indicate the above in an affidavit the basis of satisfaction."
Further said, "The Election Commission of India shall also indicate that if the sample survey can be extended to a higher level...the affidavit shall be filed by 4 PM on March 28. The matter is listed for further hearing on April 1."
At the outset, the bench told the deputy election commissioner Sudeep Jain, appearing in person, whether the poll panel can increase the number of random physical verification of VVPAT slips with EVMs from the existing stipulation of only one polling station per assembly segment.
Jain replied that the ECI has adequate reasons to believe that there was no requirement for changing the present arrangement.
To this, the bench said, "It is not the question of casting aspersions rather it is a question of satisfaction. Two is better than one. Tell us, can you do a little more. We would like to increase it. Can you increase it? If you are willing to do it on your own do it but if not then give the reasons."
Jain replied that the present arrangement of counting of VVPAT slips in one polling booth per assembly constituency in assembly polls and in one polling booth in each assembly segment for Lok Sabha polls has worked well but the poll panel is open to suggestions.
The bench was seemingly dissatisfied with the persistent response of the EC official that the present system has been working well and asked the poll panel to file an affidavit detailing the reasons of its satisfaction that there was no need for any improvement.
"If the present system was working well then why did you not start using VVPAT on your own? Why did you need court orders for that (earlier)? Why did the judges have to think about it? Why did you oppose the court's suggestion at that time? You had opposed at that time but yet we did it," the bench said.
It further said, "No institution shall insulate itself from improvement, including the judiciary. There is always a scope for improvement. Everyone needs improvement".
The bench had on March 15, issued a notice to ECI and asked the competent authority to depute an officer to assist the court in the matter.
The leaders from six national and 15 regional parties, claiming to represent 70-75 percent of the population, have also sought the setting aside of the EC guideline on random verification of one assembly seat.
The parties include the Congress, Nationalist Congress Party, Aam Aadmi Party, CPI (Marxist), CPI, Trinamool Congress, Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party, Rashtriya Lok Dal, Loktantrik Janata Dal and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK).
The plea had referred to the 1975 verdict of the apex court in the case of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi which held that free and fair elections are part of the basic structure of the Constitution of India.
The plea had further stated that the directions are being sought for giving effect to the judgment of this court declaring VVPAT as "integral and intrinsic to free and fair elections which, in turn, are part of the basic structure of the Constitution of India".
The parties had raised apprehensions in a meeting with the EC in February about the credibility of EVMs, although the poll panel has denied allegations of machines being tampered with.
The EC, while announcing the Lok Sabha election schedule, had said that mandatory checking of EVMs and VVPAT will be done on the basis of one polling station for each Lok Sabha constituency.