"The court can't substitute the decision of the Election Commission unless the petitioner is able to establish that the commission's decision is arbitrary, illegal or malafide. We cannot discredit the Election Commission's decision without cogent material," the Supreme Court said.
The Supreme Court bench comprising Chief Justice Dipak Misra and justices AM Khanwilkar and DY Chandrachud allowed petitioner Mohammad Arif Rajput, a Gujarat Congress leader, to withdraw his plea but granted him the liberty to file a comprehensive petition later seeking election reforms.
The Supreme Court said that a debate on poll reforms can only take place after the election process is over in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh.
The Congress had asked the Supreme Court to direct the Election Commission to match at least 20 per cent of the votes polled in Gujarat to the Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail or VVPAT, which produces a slip to confirm to the voter that his vote has been recorded correctly. To this, the court said it can't interfere in the election process.
Senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, appearing for the petitioner, argued that the Election Commission's decision to match the VVPAT of one booth in one constituency is just cosmetic. He then requested for the counting of the slips of the VVPAT machines along with those cast in the Electronic Voting Machines or EVMs in at least 20 per cent of the booths of each constituency. "This would reassure the people about the fairness of the election," Mr Singhvi said.
After questioning Mr Singhvi about the petitioner - a secretary of the Congress - the bench told Mr Singhvi that his client had approached the court in his personal capacity and instead, should have let his party take a bold stand before approaching the court. The court also said that a candidate has every right to question the vote count before the returning officer.
Mr Singhvi then scaled down his demand saying that counting of paper trails in at least ten per cent of the booths per constituency should take place, which too was not entertained. Mr Singhvi finally agreed that counting of the paper trail in a "sufficient number" will reassure the people about the fairness of the elections through the EVMs.
Campaigning for the Gujarat election has been very acerbic, with charges flying everywhere.