New Delhi, March 15 (IANS): The Supreme Court on Friday sought the Election Commission's response on a plea by 21 opposition parties seeking audit of at least 50 per cent of EVMs with corresponding Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trails (VVPATs).
Issuing the notice to the poll panel, the bench of Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, Justice Deepak Gupta and Justice Sanjiv Khanna directed the election panel to depute an officer to assist the court on the next hearing of the matter on March 25.
"Matter will be heard on March 25, 2019. The Election Commission of India to be served through the Secretary. The competent authority of the Election Commission of India shall depute a suitable officer to assist the Court on the date fixed i.e. March 25, 2019," the court said in its order.
The plea was filed, among others, by Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu of the Telugu Desam Party, Sharad Pawar of the Nationalist Congress Party, Farooq Abdullah of the National Conference, Sharad Yadav of the Loktantrik Janata Dal, Arvind Kejriwal of the Aam Aadmi Party, Akhilesh Yadav of the Samajwadi Party, Derek O'Brien of the Trinamool Conference and M.K. Stalin of the DMK.
In the plea, they urged the court that 50 per cent of results of EVMs must be matched and cross-checked with VVPATs before the declaration of results in the general elections.
Earlier in February, the opposition parties approached the EC to audit at least 50 per cent of EVMs with corresponding VVPATs in all constituencies during the Lok Sabha polls.
The parties had said there are "serious doubts about the credibility of EVMs and the purity of the entire electoral process" and asked the EC to mandate physical countercheck of paper trail and match it with the electronic vote in at least 50 per cent of all EVMs, if not all.
The 21 opposition party leaders had challenged the Election Commission's decision to verify VVPAT of only one randomly selected booth of a constituency.
Speaking to media persons later, senior counsel Abhishek Manu Singhvi said that verifying the VVPAT of just one randomly selected booth in a constituency would account for just 0.44 per cent of the votes polled and this would defeat the entire purpose of attaching VVPAT to EVMs for recording votes in printed form.
He described as "ornamental" and without substance the exercise of verifying the votes exercised through EVMs with VVPAT that is undertaken by the election panel at present.
The top court had on January 7 sought the poll panel's response on a PIL by a retired bureaucrat, a former army officer and a former diplomat seeking to increase the cross-verification of the VVPATs with EVMs from the current 10 per cent to 30 per cent for this year's general elections.
In their plea, retired Indian Army Officer and former IAS officer M.G. Devasahayam, former Indian Foreign Service Officer K.P. Fabian and retired banker and All India Bank Officers Confederation General Secretary Thomas Franco Rajendra Dev had described as "manifestly arbitrary, irrational, unreasonable and, inter alia, in violation of Article 14" of the Constitution, the Election Commission's decision to "confine such a cross-verification exercise to a statistically insignificant number of approximately only one polling station in each constituency, regardless of the number of polling stations in such a constituency".
The PIL is still pending.