SC Notice to EC on VVPAT Plea; Congress Emphasizes it as ‘Key Milestone'”

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The Supreme Court on Monday sought responses from the Election Commission of India and the Centre on a plea seeking a comprehensive count of Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) slips in elections.

Currently, only five randomly-selected Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) undergo verification through VVPAT paper slips.

A bench comprising Justices BR Gavai and Sandeep Mehta requested a response from both the election panel and the Centre regarding a plea filed by lawyer and activist Arun Kumar Agrawal. The matter is likely to be scheduled for a hearing on May 17.

Senior lawyer Gopal Sankaranarayanan and advocate Neha Rathi represented Agrawal in court. Their plea challenged the Election Commission’s guideline, which requires sequential verification of VVPATs, one after the other.

Commending the top court’s notice to the poll panel as an ‘important first step’, Congress general secretary Jairam Ramesh stressed the need for a decision on the matter before the Lok Sabha elections begin.

“It bears constant repetition that the Election Commission has refused to meet a delegation of INDIA party leaders who have been demanding 100% VVPATs in order to increase public confidence in EVMs and to ensure the integrity of the electoral process. The notice is an important first step, but for it to be meaningful, the matter should be decided before the elections commence,” Jairam Ramesh said in a post on X.

The Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) is an independent system used for verifying votes in elections. It allows voters to confirm if their vote was recorded accurately by generating a paper slip that shows their selected candidate’s name. This paper slip is kept securely sealed and can be used for verification in case of any disputes.

On April 2019, the Supreme Court had directed the Election Commission to increase the number of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) undergoing VVPAT physical verification from one to five per assembly segment in a parliamentary constituency.

The plea argued that if simultaneous verification is conducted and more officers are deployed for counting in each assembly constituency, complete VVPAT verification could be completed within five to six hours.

The government has spent nearly Rs 5,000 crore on purchase of nearly 24 lakh VVPATs but presently, VVPAT slips of only approximately 20,000 VVPATs are verified, the plea stated.

Given the concerns raised by experts regarding VVPATs and EVMs, and the numerous discrepancies between EVM and VVPAT vote counts reported in the past, the plea emphasises the importance of counting all VVPAT slips. It suggests that voters should have the opportunity to physically verify that their votes were accurately recorded by allowing them to drop their VVPAT slips into the ballot box.

(With inputs from PTI)

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