NEW DELHI: With opposition parties persistently calling for an enhanced paper trail count, the Supreme Court on Monday ordered the Election Commission to increase by five times the number of EVMs whose vote count must be matched with VVPAT slips in each assembly segment.
This could, on an average, mean 35-40 VVPAT counts per parliamentary constituency, and can delay results in the coming general elections by around four hours, raising the possibility of formal declaration of winners and losers coming late into the night of May 23 when counting of votes is scheduled.
Though leaders of 21 non-NDA political parties, led by N Chandrababu Naidu, failed to convince the SC on the need to count VVPAT slips of 50% of EVMs in the Lok Sabha elections, their counsel A M Singhvi could claim moral victory as he succeeded in getting the EC to increase by five times its existing procedure to count VVPAT slips of one randomly selected EVM per assembly segment.
A bench of Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justices Deepak Gupta and Sanjiv Khanna said it did not have an iota of doubt about the fairness of elections and extremely high voter confidence level in EVMs. “At the very outset, the court would like to observe that neither the satisfaction of the EC nor the system in vogue today is being doubted by the SC insofar as fairness and integrity is concerned. It is possible and we are certain that the system ensures accurate electoral results,” it said.
“But that is not all. If the number of machines which are subjected to verification of paper trail can be increased to a reasonable number, it would lead to greater satisfaction among not only political parties but the entire electorate of the country. This is what the court should endeavour and the exercise, therefore, should be to find a viable number of machines that should be subject to the verification of VVPAT paper trails keeping in mind the infrastructure and manpower difficulties,” the bench added.
“We are of the view that if the number of EVMs in respect of which VVPAT slips is to be subjected to physical scrutiny is increased from one to five, the additional manpower that would be required would not be difficult for the EC to provide nor would the declaration of the result be substantially delayed,” it further said.
The EC, through senior advocates C A Sundaram and Arvind Datar, said a sample survey by Indian Statistical Institute-led experts had said that counting VVPAT slips of 479 EVMs from a total 13.5 lakh EVMs ensured a voter confidence of 99.99% and that till date, not a single mismatch in the EVM count and VVPAT slips was found. They argued that increasing number of EVMs for matching with VVPAT slips per assembly segment would not contribute significantly to the voter confidence level of 99.99%. The SC said it was not disputing the statistics.
The EC said it had decided to count VVPAT slips of 4,125 EVMs, which was more than eight times the sample size taken up by the team of experts and expressed apprehension that a 50% count of EVMs, that is of 6.75 lakh EVMs, would delay declaration of results by 5.2 days.
With the SC ordering matching of VVPAT slips with vote counts in five randomly selected EVMs per assembly constituency, the EC now has to count VVPAT slips of 20,625 EVMs in total instead of 4,125 it was proposing to count. Going by the EC calculation of 5.2 days delay declaration of results if VVPAT slips of 6.75 lakh EVMs were counted, then declaration of results would be delayed by 3.8 hours on implementation of the SC order.
“We also direct that random selection of the machines that would be subjected to the process of VVPAT paper trail verification as explained to us by the deputy commissioner, in terms of the guidelines in force, shall apply to the VVPAT paper trail verification of the five EVMs covered by the present order,” the SC said.