SC rejects Guj Cong leader plea for paper trail

SC rejects Guj Cong leader plea for paper trail
Two days before the Gujarat Assembly election results, the Supreme Court on Friday declined to consider a plea by the state Congress for counting of at least 20% of the votes through paper trail slips attached to EVMs in each constituency.

A three-judge bench presided over by Chief Justice Dipak Misra noted the Election Commission has already decided to do random checks in one booth of the votes cast in electronic voting machines with paper trail. The court also said a candidate can approach the returning officer for counting of votes through paper trail.

"This court can't interfere unless the Election Commission's decision for a random check of the EVM-VVPAT paper trail in one booth per constituency is proved arbitrary, illegal or malafide. We cannot discredit the Election Commission's decision without cogent material," the bench, also comprising Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud, said.

Appearing for Gujarat Congress leader Mohamman Arif Rajput, senior advocate Abhishek M Singhvi contended that the EC's decision to verify votes through paper trial in one random booth would be like "a drop of salt in the occean".

"It would be reassuring for the voters if such a check is increased to at least to 20% of the booths in each constituency," he pleaded.

The counting of votes in the recently concluded Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh Assembly constituencies would take place on December 18.

Singhvi submitted that it was for the first time that EVMs with 100% VVPAT were used in Gujarat. All other countries in the world, except India and South Africa, had stopped using EVMs, he said.

The court told Singhvi, supported by senior counsel Vivek Tankha, that a debate on poll reforms can happen only after the election process is over.

The bench  also questioned the petitioner about his locus standi, saying he was not a political party. Singhvi, for his part, submitted that he was a member of Congress party.

The court also pointed out that it had already rejected a petition challenging the discretionary powers of a returning officer under 56(D)(2) of the Conduct of Elections Rules, 1961, for refusal to count the VVPAT.

On this, Singhvi submitted that the court should consider issuing counting of paper trail at a minimum 10% of the polling booths. The court finally refused to act forcing the petitioner to withdraw his plea. It, however, granted liberty to him to file a comprehensive petition on electoral reforms pertaining to VVPAT.

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