SC refuses to pass interim order to ECI on uploading voter turnout data

New Delhi, May 24 (UNI) The Supreme Court on Friday refused to pass any interim order on a plea by an NGO seeking that ECI should upload the voter turnout data on its website within 48 hours of the conclusion of polling for each phase of Lok Sabha election and said, “We are also responsible citizens and we must have a hands-off approach.”

A Vacation Bench comprising Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice Satish Chandra Sharma while hearing the plea of the NGO Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) said that the ‘court cannot interfere amid the elections’.

The Apex Court was hearing the plea of the NGO seeking directions to the Election Commission of India (ECI) to disclose final authenticated data of voter turnout in all polling stations including the number of votes polled in the Lok Sabha Election 2024 within 48 hours of the conclusion of polling.

The ECI had on Wednesday told the Supreme Court that there is no law saying that the final authenticated data of voter turnout in all polling stations has to be published on the website within 48 hours.

In an affidavit filed before the Top Court, the ECI stated that disclosure of voter turnout data based on Form 17C (votes polled in each polling station) will cause confusion among voters as the postal ballot counts are not available at that time.

The Court asked the petitioner why the plea was brought as an interim plea during the ongoing Lok Sabha polls when the same issue has been raised in the 2019 plea which is pending.

“Supreme Court is yet to decide the Article 32 plea of 2019. You want the same interim orders on what terms,” the Court asked.

The Bench said, “The earlier decisions of the Supreme Court stare at your face and say you cannot do this. One judgment of 1985 holds that it can be done but in very exceptional cases.. But in this case why you did not file this application on March 16,” the Court asked.

“This is the issue of public interest in which procedural law does not strictly apply,” Senior Counsel Dushyant Dave appearing for ADR replied.

The application by ADR was filed in light of the recent controversy surrounding the substantial increase in the final voter turnout announced by the ECI for the first two phases of the ongoing Lok Sabha elections as compared to the initial estimate announced on the voting day.

ADR highlighted that the data published on April 30 showed a sharp increase (by about 5-6%) in the final voter turnout as compared to the initial percentages announced by ECI on the day of polling.

This coupled with the delay in announcing the voter turnout led to concerns among voters and political parties about the correctness of such data, the plea said.

The application was moved by the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) in a 2019 case in which it had sought directions to the ECI to upload scanned, legible copies of Form 17C Part-I (Account of Votes Recorded), on its website.

The data should be uploaded after each phase of polling in the ongoing 2024 elections and must provide constituency and polling station-wise figures of voter turnout in absolute numbers and percentage form, the application stated.

Additionally, ADR has sought disclosure of Part- II of Form 17C which contains the candidate-wise result of counting after the compilation of results.

ADR alleged that there has been a dereliction of duty on the part of the ECI in declaring election results through Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) based on accurate and indisputable data.

The ECI had in its reply contended that certain “vested interests” keep on throwing false allegations at it to discredit its working.

The ECI alleged “There is a consistent malafide campaign/design/efforts to keep on raising suspicion and doubt in every possible manner and by misleading assertions and baseless allegations regarding the conduct of elections…. the design and pattern in play is to spread doubts and damage is done by the time the truth comes out,” the ECI said.

ECI said that ADR has been claiming a legal entitlement where none exists, that too amidst the ongoing Lok Sabha elections.

Senior Advocate Maninder Singh appearing on behalf of ECI alleged that the plea by ADR was based only on suspicion and apprehensions.

He said that the issue was already settled by the top court in its April 26 judgment and the present plea is barred by the principle of res judicata.

The allegations are being raised in the elections to erode the credibility of the ECI, Singh alleged.

Maninder Singh urged the court to see the petitioner’s maintainability and conduct. When elections are going on these continuous petitions are based on just apprehension etc.

This is a classic case of suspicion and erodes the integrity of the Election Commission of India,” he contended.

Singh also said that such petitions could be the reason for the low voter turnout in the ongoing Lok Sabha polls.

The ECI told the court that the interim prayer raised in the present plea was the same as the prayer already raised in the main petition pending before the Court since 2019.

The Court refused to grant any interim relief to the petitioner and directed that

the matter be listed after the ongoing Lok Sabha polls.

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