The Supreme Court today issued notice to the Election Commission on a petition seeking to do away with a rule that puts the onus of proving discrepancy of results between electronic voting machines and voter-verifiable slips.
The petitioner, Sunil Ahya, said the threat of jail term up to six months deters voters from making complaints even if they strongly feel there could be a discrepancy in what they entered in the EVM and what is printed on the VVPAT slip.
If a voter found a different symbol on the VVPAT slip other than the one for which the person had pressed the button in the EVM, the voter can complain to the polling authorities. The voter would next be asked to press the button again in front of the officials. If both the EVM and the VVPAT showed no discrepancy then, the person could be jailed for up to six months.
Mr Ahya said this rule should be scrapped. Section 49 MA of the Code of Election Rules says a complainant can be jailed for six months or fined Rs 1,000 if it turned out the machines were working fine.
"Deviant behaviour and lodging a complaint... is an essential ingredient in a continuous exercise for improving the electoral process," Mr Ahya said in the petition.
Last week, 21 opposition parties asked the Supreme Court to review its order on counting the slips of only five EVM paper trail machines in every assembly segment. The parties reiterated its request for counting at least 50 per cent of the voter-verifiable paper trail (VVPAT) slips, a plea that was turned down by the Supreme Court earlier this month.
On April 8, the Election Commission said random checks of VVPAT slips to verify whether votes have been recorded accurately will be increased across the country, after the Supreme Court ordered a "high degree of accuracy" in the national election that started on April 11.
The increase may delay results by around an hour, election officials had said.
The request by the 21 opposition parties to increase counting of VVPATs comes amid constant fights among parties in election season.
The Election Commission has said that based on inputs from the Indian Statistical Institute, a sample survey of 479 assembly segments would generate 99.99 per cent accuracy. The poll body had also flagged infrastructure and workforce constraints; it said it needs a minimum team of three officers to count VVPATs.
The poll body at present matches VVPAT slips of 4,125 EVMs under the "one EVM per assembly segment" guideline. Following the earlier court order, the Election Commission will count the VVPAT slips of five times as many machines in each constituency, or that of 20,625 EVMs.
The Supreme Court had also made it clear that it was not casting any doubt on the Election Commission's checks and processes.