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Judiciary

'Can't interrupt in between polls,' SC declines to consider plea for uploading voters turnout data

By Jhanak Singh      24 May, 2024 02:06 PM      0 Comments
Cant interrupt in between polls SC declines to consider plea for uploading voters turnout data

NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Friday declined to entertain a plea for immediate uploading of Form 17C data related to booth wise voters turnout data on website as the Lok Sabha elections were already on with five phases of scheduled seven having been held.

A bench of Justices Dipankar Datta and Satish Chandra Sharma said prima facie the court is not inclined to grant any interim relief since one of the prayers in 2019 petition (filed by the ADR) is similar with a prayer (B) in the 2024 application.

The court also pointed out the instant interlocutory application by the NGO in a pending 2019 writ petition sought prayer in nature of final relief.

"We don't say anything on merit...but you don't have a good case, at this time," the bench told senior advocate Dushyant Dave and A M Singhvi, appearing for the NGO and TMC Mahua Moitra respectively.

The bench said granting the interim relief would mean allowing the final relief.

The bench also told Dave that this application can be entertained after the elections and "in between elections, hands off! we cannot interrupt, we are also responsible citizens".

"We keep it pending, we will examine at appropriate time. Let's trust some authority. There is very little window open for you," the bench added.

Senior advocate Maninder Singh, appearing for the Election Commission, contended the application was a classic case of the abuse of the process as it was filed when the election process was already on.

He said, the application is founded on suspicion and apprehension and false allegations on integrity of election process. He also contended they have annexed press releases issued by the EC but not the judgment of April 26 when the court dealt with their plea concerning the cross verification of VVPAT counts with EVMs.

He said the plea was completely barred by constructive res judicata, and heavy cost to be imposed on the applicants.

"Continuance indulgence to the applicant is causing so much damage to public interest. The court has kept on permitting such vested interests to raise questions when process is going on. There is complete bar on entertainment of such applications, there have been repeated attempts by them...it to be dealt with heavy hand," Singh said.

He also contended to raise apprehension on variance of 5-6% of voters turnout is completely false. "Perhaps this could also be one of reasons for decline of vote percentage," Singh said.

The applicants' counsel said in PILs, there can be no strict application of rules and procedure.

The bench, however, said PILs have nowadays become "publicity, private and paisa interest" petitions.

As the bench posed queries to the applicants as to why they didn't come prior to March 16, when the election dates were announced, the counsel said the information was made available only when disclosures were made in first two phases of polls.

EC itself revised voting percentage in first two phases, Dave said.

Singh said when polling percentage is initially announced, the figure is only tentative.

The bench said when elections were on, hands-off approach has to be taken.

"Let the application be heard along with the main writ petition. We cannot interrupt the process," the bench said.

The court also pointed out five phases of elections were already and two phases remaining and the six phase scheduled on May 25.

On May 17, the Supreme Court issued notice to the Election Commission to upload account of votes recorded of all polling stations 48 hours after close of polling of each phase in the ongoing 2024 Lok Sabha elections.

On May 22, the Election Commission contended before the court that uploading of Form 17C (account of votes polled at each polling booth) on website can lead to mischief and there are possibilities of images being morphed, which can create widespread discomfort and mistrust.

The poll panel also contended the allegation with regard to increase of final voter turnout data by 5 to 6% in first two phases was "misleading and unsubstantiated".

In an affidavit, the EC also said changing the procedure in the last two phases of polls would amount to interference in election process and would be in teeth of Article 329(b) (no election of Parliament or Assembly should be called in question except election petition) of the Constitution.



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