Supreme Court refuses to ask ECI to upload booth-wise voter turnout data amid Lok Sabha polls; adjourns plea

Supreme Court adjourned the interlocutory application filed by the ADR to be listed before the regular bench after the elections

BySouth First Desk

Published May 24, 2024 | 12:31 PMUpdatedMay 24, 2024 | 12:31 PM

Vote

The Supreme Court, on Friday, 24 May, refused to interfere and direct the ECI during the Lok Sabha polls to publish the booth-wise absolute numbers of voter turnout and upload the Form 17C records of votes polled on its website.

A vacation bench of Justices Dipankar Datta and Satish Chandra Sharma said it cannot issue any such directions at the moment as five phases of polling have concluded and two remain.

The top court adjourned the interlocutory application filed by the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) to be listed before the regular bench after the elections and pointed out that prima facie it appears the prayers in the application are similar to the main petition pending since 2019 on the issue.

Senior Advocate Dr Abhishek Manu Singhvi appeared for Mitra. Senior Advocate Dushyant Dave appeared for ADR and Senior Advocate Maninder Singh appeared for the ECI.

On 17 May, the apex court asked the EC to submit a response to a petition seeking scanned copies of Form 17C to be uploaded to the ECI website as and when the voting concludes.

Responding to the plea, the ECI on 22 May, informed the Supreme Court that uploading Form 17C on its website could lead to “mischief and vitiation of entire electoral space”.

Related: Uploading Form 17C on website can lead to ‘mischief’, mistrust: EC tells Supreme Court

The arguments

Nothing that the plea is similar to the main writ petition filed in 2019, Justice Datta orally said, “In between elections, hands-off approach has to be taken. Let the application be heard along with the main writ petition. We cannot interrupt the process. Let us have some trust in the authority.”

The order read: “The arguments on the interim application were heard. Prima facie we are not inclined to grant any relief on the interim application at this stage in view of similarities of the prayers in the interim application and the writ petition. The grant of relief in the interim application would amount to the grant of final relief. Relist the applications before the appropriate bench after vacations. We have not expressed any opinion on merits apart from the prima facie view expressed above.”

The bench said it would be difficult for the poll panel to mobilise manpower for uploading the voter turnout data on its website.

“Granting any relief in IA will amount to granting relief in the main petition which is pending,” the bench said.

The ADR has 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.

Also Read: Andhra Pradesh Police launch state-wide search operations to address poll-related violence

ECI’s response to the Supreme Court

Dismissing allegations that the first two phases of the Lok Sabha elections saw an increase of 5-6 per cent in the voter data released on the day of polling and in the subsequent press releases, the commission expressed its concerns about the possibility of images being morphed, which can create “widespread discomfort and mistrust”.

The ECI argued that Form 17C, currently stored securely in the Strong Room and only accessible to polling agents whose signatures it bears, is designed to maintain a secure and traceable record of the polling process.

“At the moment, the original Form 17C is only available in the Strong Room and a copy only with the polling agents whose signature it bears. Therefore, there is a one-to-one relationship between each Form 17C and its possessor,” the commission told the top court.

The Supreme Court had sought a detailed response from the ECI after hearing the plea filed by the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR).

It directed the Commission to upload polling station-wise voter turnout data on its website within 48 hours of polling for each phase of the ongoing Lok Sabha polls.

Also Read: Lok Sabha elections sixth phase: Campaigning ends for polls in 58 seats across six states and two Union territories

(With inputs from PTI and Live Law)

(Edited by Neena)