"We Can't Control Polls": Supreme Court To Prashant Bhushan In VVPAT Case

The bench of Justice Sanjiv Khanna and Justice Dipankar Datta said it cannot act on mere suspicion.

'We Can't Control Polls': Supreme Court To Prashant Bhushan In VVPAT Case

The Supreme Court has reserved the verdict in the VVPAT case

New Delhi:

The Supreme Court today said it is not the controlling authority for elections and cannot dictate the functioning of Election Commission, a constitutional authority. The remarks came during the hearing on petitions seeking thorough cross-verification of votes cast on Electronic Voting Machines (EVM) with paper slips generated through the VVPAT system. The court has reserved the judgment for now. 

The bench of Justice Sanjiv Khanna and Justice Dipankar Datta questioned if it can act on mere suspicion.

Responding to concerns raised by Advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing for petitioner Association for Democratic Reforms, the court said, "If you are predisposed about a thought-process, then we cannot help you... we are not here to change your thought process."

Amid the Opposition's apprehensions regarding the EVM voting system, the petitions seek a direction to cross-verify every vote cast on EVMs with the paper slips generated by the VVPAT system. Currently, this cross-verification is done for five randomly selected EVMs in every Assembly constituency.

In the earlier hearings, the petitioners raised the issue of public trust and drew comparisons with European countries that have gone back to the ballot voting system. The court shot down such comparisons, observing that the challenges here are different. The Election Commission, on its part, stressed that the current system is foolproof.

An EVM has a control unit and a balloting unit. These are connected by a cable. These are also connected with a VVPAT -- Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail -- machine. This machine enables a voter to see if the vote was cast properly and went to the candidate he/she supports.

As proceedings began this morning, the court sought some clarifications from the poll body about microcontrollers in the system and if they can be re-programmed.

The Election Commission responded that all three units have their own microcontrollers and these can be programmed only once. Mr Bhushan contended that these microcontrollers have a flash memory that is re-programmable. "To say that it is not re-programmable is incorrect," he said.

The court said it has to trust the poll body's technical report. "They are saying quantum of flash memory is very low. They can store 1024 symbols, not software. They say that as far as microcontrollers in the CU (control unit) is concerned, it is agnostic. It does not recognise the party or symbol, it knows the buttons," Justice Khanna said.

When Mr Bhushan wondered if it is possible to load a malicious program in the flash memory, the court remarked, "Can we issue a mandamus on the basis of a suspicion? We are not the controlling authority of another constitutional authority, we cannot control the elections."