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Supreme Court seeks EC’s response on plea for release of voter turnout data within 48 hours of LS polls

Election Commission 1

NEW DELHI, MAY 17: Holding an urgent hearing at 6:30 on Friday evening, the Supreme Court sought a response within a week from the Election Commission on a plea by an NGO seeking a direction to upload polling station-wise voter turnout data on its website within 48 hours of conclusion of polling for each phase of the Lok Sabha elections.
The top Court, which was urged earlier in the day by lawyer Prashant Bhushan that the plea be heard today itself, assembled in the evening after the conclusion of an SCBA function to bid farewell to Justice AS Bopanna.
Chief Justice DY Chandrachud termed the request of the poll panel seeking time to respond to the plea as “fair”.
The Bench said the EC should be given some reasonable time to respond to the plea and listed it for hearing before an appropriate Bench during the summer vacation on May 24, a day before the 6th phase of the 7-phase Lok Sabha polls.
During brief hearing, Senior Advocate Maninder Singh, appearing for the poll panel, said NGO Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) has levelled “absolutely false allegations” in the plea and, moreover, a recent judgment of another Bench of the apex Court headed by Justice Sanjiv Khanna has dealt with the issues which are also part of the present case.
On April 26, the Justice Khanna-led Bench rejected the pleas for reviving paper ballots and also 100% cross-verification of votes cast on electronic voting machines with voter verifiable paper audit trail (VVPAT).
Bhushan, on the other hand, opposed the submission, saying that the issue relating to voter turnout data was not part of the earlier petition.
The CJI, earlier in the day, asked the Counsel appearing for the Election Commission to take instructions and said it will hear the matter at the end of the board.
The ADR had last week filed an interim application in its 2019 PIL seeking directions to the poll panel that “scanned legible copies of Form 17C Part-I (Account of Votes Recorded)” of all polling stations be uploaded immediately after the polls.
“Direct the Election Commission to provide tabulated polling station-wise data in absolute figures of the number of votes polled as recorded in Form 17C Part- I after each phase of polling in the ongoing 2024 Lok Sabha elections and also a tabulation of constituency-wise figures of voter turnout in absolute numbers in the ongoing 2024 Lok Sabha elections”, the NGO said.
It said the plea was filed to ensure that the democratic process is not subverted by electoral irregularities.
“The voter turnout data for the first 2 phases of the ongoing 2024 Lok Sabha elections published by ECI on April 30 has been published after 11 days of the first phase of polling… on April 19 and 4 days after second phase of polling… on April 26.
“The data, as published by the ECI in its press release dated April 30, 2024 shows a sharp increase (by about 5-6%) as compared to the initial percentages announced by ECI as of 7 p.m. on the day of polling”, the plea said.
The petition said the “inordinate” delay in the release of the final voter turnout data, coupled with the unusually high revision of over 5% in the poll panel’s press note of April 30, 2024 has raised concerns and public suspicion regarding the correctness of the said data.
The non-release of the absolute number of votes polled coupled with the “unreasonable delay” in the release of votes polled data has led to apprehensions in the mind of the electorate about the sharp increase between initial data and data released on April 30, it said.
“These apprehensions must be addressed and put to rest. That in order to uphold the voter’s confidence it is necessary that the ECI be directed to disclose on its website scanned legible copies of Form 17C Part- I (Account of Votes Recorded) of all polling stations which contains the authenticated figures for votes polled, within 48 hours of the close of polling”, it said.