SC's no interim directions to ECI on voter turnout after each phase of LS poll

by IANS |

New Delhi, May 24 (IANS) The Supreme Court on Friday refused to pass any interim directions to the Election Commission of India (ECI) to disclose the authenticated record of voter turnout on its official website after each phase of polling for the ongoing Lok Sabha elections.

Posting the matter for hearing post-summer vacations, a bench of Justices Dipankar Datta and S.C. Sharma said that passing interim directions at this stage would amount to granting final relief in the petitions and a “hands off” approach should be preferred once the election process is set in motion.

The poll body told the top court that disclosing the scanned legible copies of accounts of votes recorded at all polling stations would cause “chaos” in the election machinery.

In its affidavit, the ECI said that any change at the close of the election period will cause hardship and confusion in the electoral process as no time is left for providing adequate training to the polling parties which will be on duty for the last two phases of the election.

Last week, a bench headed by the Chief Justice of India (CJI), D.Y. Chandrachud, granted a week to the ECI to respond to the application seeking directions for disclosure on its official website the scanned legible copies of Form 17C Part- I (Account of Votes Recorded) of all polling stations containing the authenticated figures for votes polled, within 48 hours of the close of polling.

The plea also demanded that the ECI should provide a tabulation of constituency and polling station-wise figures of voter turnout in absolute numbers and percentage form for the ongoing general elections.

Referring to the voter turnout data published by the ECI on April 30 for the first two phases of polling, 11 days after the first phase of polling on April 19, and four days after the second phase of polling on April 26, the plea claimed “dereliction of duty” on the part of the poll panel in declaring election results (of the Lok Sabha and Assemblies through Electronic Voting Machines).

“The data, as published by the ECI in its press release dated April 30, 2024, shows a sharp increase (by about 5-6 per cent) as compared to the initial percentage announced by ECI, as of 7 p.m. on the day of polling,” the application said.

The reply document filed by the ECI said that the voter turnout App continuously keeps reflecting data on a live basis and on the other hand, Form 17C is given to agents of candidates after the close of poll on polling day itself as per the statutory requirement.

“The voters and the candidates have a statutory remedy to challenge the election in their concerned constituency, by way of filing an election petition. However, the petitioner in the present application has failed to mention a single instance where such candidates or voters had filed an election petition on the basis of the allegations raised by the petitioner with respect to the General Elections to the Lok Sabha, 2019. This indicates that the allegation of discrepancies in voter turnout data made by the petitioner in the main petition as well as the present application is misleading, false and based on mere suspicion,” it said.

The affidavit stated that the elections for the 19th Lok Sabha are at an advanced stage towards its conclusion and it has been a settled principle of law, that no petition, which may have the impact of either creating suspicion and/or impeding the conduct of the process and conclusion of elections, would deserve to be rejected at the threshold itself.

“There are also certain elements and vested interests who keep on throwing baseless and false allegations, creating an unwarranted atmosphere of suspicion - in the close proximity of time of conduct of every election. It is most humbly submitted that there is a consistent mala fide campaign/design/efforts to keep on raising suspicion and doubt in every possible manner and by misleading assertions and baseless allegations regarding the conduct of elections by the Election Commission of India,” it added.

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