The Supreme Court on Monday raised the VVPAT (voter verifiable paper audit trail) physical verification from one to five EVMs (electronic voting machines) in each Assembly segment of a parliamentary constituency.
The bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi directed the Election Commission (EC) that these EVMs continue to be chosen at random, the objective being to ensure a higher degree of accuracy to enhance the satisfaction in free and fair elections of not just the political parties but of the people of the country, though clarifying that the efficacy of the system, as it presently exists or the credibility of the EVMs, is not doubted.
It was advanced on behalf of the petitioners that the EC's contention of 50% VVPAT verification delaying the declaration of results by six days is premised on the assumption that even after the EVMs are so increased from more than one, only one person, as is the case at present, shall continue to count the VVPAT slips of each of those EVMs one after the other. As per the EC, “if 1 VVPAT slip verification in 1 polling booth requires 1 hour, 125 polling booths would need 125 hours, which would be 5.2 days".
"How are you saying that there is only 1 person to count all the VVPAT slips in a booth?", asked Gogoi.
Senior Advocate A. M. Singhvi admitted to the 21 Opposition parties having made a technical error, correcting himself to say that there is actually a team, though reiterating that a higher rate of physical verification would raise the confidence of the people in the elections.
On behalf of the ECI, it was argued that there was nothing to indicate any bottlenecks in the audit system as is employed today, that the petitioners are only motivated by their assumptions and that an increase in the quantum of manual verification would in fact also heighten the risk of mistakes.
Even as it was submitted that the audit system has the approval of the Indian Statistical Institute, Senior Counsel Kapil Sibal drew the bench's attention to a RTI report revealing that the ISI was not even involved in the exercise undertaken in March to ascertain the requirement to increase manual counting.
The Commission countered that the ISI Chief could be produced to vouch for there having been no opinion to the contrary at the end in the Institute. "How do you choose the polling booth for the purpose of the audit?", inquired the Chief Justice from ECI.
"Randomly...by way of lottery", he was informed.
When it was suggested that the EVM for VVPAT verification be selected by the candidates themselves, Chief Justice Gogoi asked what would happen where 20 candidates field 20 different EVMs. When the advocate replied that a draw of lots could be carried out, the Chief Justice commented, "In that case, I believe we judges ourselves would have to go to count the votes".
The Chief Justice, however, accepted the submissions of the EC that more VVPAT verification would create issues of infrastructure, considering that a separate space is needed to be dedicated for the purpose, noting that the VVPAT sample survey as currently conducted is already more than the recommended number.