New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Tuesday asked the Election Commission to introduce in a phased manner the paper trail in Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, saying "it is an indispensable requirement of free, fair and transparent" polls which will restore confidence of the voters.
The Supreme Court, which directed the Centre to provide financial assistance to the poll panel for introduction Vote Verifier Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) system with the EVMs, said it will "ensure the accuracy of the voting system" and also help in "manual counting of votes in case of dispute."
"The 'paper trail' is an indispensable requirement of free and fair elections. The confidence of voters in the EVMs can be achieved only with introduction of the paper trail," it said.
"EVMs with VVPAT system ensure the accuracy of the voting system. With an intent to have fullest transparency in the system and to restore the confidence of the voters, it is necessary to set up EVMs with VVPAT system because vote is nothing but an act of expression which has immense importance in democratic system," the bench said.
"VVPAT is a system of printing paper trail when the voter casts his vote, in addition to the electronic record of the ballot, for the purpose of verification of his choice of candidate and also for manual counting of votes in case of dispute," a bench comprising Chief Justice P Sathasivam and Ranjan Gogoi said.
The bench asked the Election Commission to introduce VVPAT in EVMs in gradual stages or geographical-wise in the 2014 general elections.
While asking the Centre to provide financial assistance, the bench noted the submissions made by the Election Commission in its affidavit that it has decided to increase the use of VVPAT units in a phased manner and has already written to the Ministry of Law and Justice to issue administrative and financial sanction for procurement of 20,000 units of VVPAT (10,000 each from M/s BEL and M/s ECIL) costing Rs 38.01 crore.
The bench said, "Taking notice of the pragmatic and reasonable approach of the Election Commission and considering the fact that in general elections all over India, the Election Commission has to handle one million (ten lakh) polling booths, we permit EC to introduce the same in gradual stages or geographical-wise in the ensuing general elections."
"The area, state or actual booth(s) are to be decided by the EC and the EC is free to implement the same in a phased manner," it said.
The bench passed the order on two similar petitions; one of those petitions was filed by BJP leader Subramanian Swamy.
Claiming that EVMs were open to hacking, Mr Swamy had sought directions to the poll watchdog to introduce paper trail to easily and cheaply meet the requirements of proof that the EVM has rightly registered the vote cast by a voter.
Mr Swamy had moved the Supreme Court against January 2012 order of the Delhi High Court disallowing his prayer to direct Election Commission to incorporate the system of paper trail in EVMs.
The bench noted that though initially the poll panel was little reluctant in introducing paper trail by use of VVPAT, pursuant to its directions, the Election Commission contacted several expert bodies and technical advisers and held meetings with national and state level political parties and carried out demonstrations.
It noted that after a thorough examination, VVPAT was successfully used in 21 polling stations of 51-Noksen (ST) Assembly Constituency of Nagaland.
"The information furnished by the ECI, through the affidavit dated October 1, 2013 clearly shows that VVPAT system is a successful one," the bench said.