Set aside rule criminalizing reporting of deviant EVM/VVPAT behaviour: SC issues notice

Set aside rule criminalizing reporting of deviant EVM/VVPAT behaviour: SC issues notice

Murali Krishnan

The Supreme Court today issued notice to Election Commission and the Central Government in a petition calling for partly setting aside Rule 49MA of the Conduct of Elections Rules, which deals with reporting of deviant behaviour of EVMs and VVPAT.

In a petition by Sunil Ahya, a Bench of Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi and Justices Deepak Gupta and Sanjiv Khanna issued notice to the Election Commission.

Ahya contended that if a voter has made a complaint about a fault in an EVM, he has the onus to prove it, failing which the person would have to face criminal trial. This will discourage voters from making complaints about faulty EVMs, Ahya argued.

Presently, Rule 49MA of the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961 deals with the reporting of deviant behavior of EVMs & VVPAT. If a voter falsely alleges that an EVM has been tampered with, he is liable to be punished under Section 177 of the Indian Penal Code, which deals with furnishing false information to a public servant. The punishment for the same is imprisonment for upto six months and/or fine of Rs. 1000.

Charging a voter under the same is not just and fair, the petition contends.

“This may also create an illusion of free and fair elections, whereas the fact would be that people have simply not come forward to lodge complaints.”

The petitioner has also made a suggestion so as to ensure that voters are satisfied that their vote has been cast in a correct manner.

“That, one of the possible ways to address the issue of reporting the aforesaid discrepancy in future, would be to keep the ballot unit lamp against the blue button of EVM glowing and at the same time, to let the VVPAT printed slip remain hanging in the transparent window without it being automatically cut after 7 seconds, unless and until the voter is completely satisfied and comes out of the polling booth…

…The above will give the elector an opportunity to complain in a state, where the lamp against the blue button of the Ballot Unit of one particular candidate selected by the elector remains glowing, whereas at the same time the printed slip inside the transparent window of the VVPAT remains hanging against the name of another candidate; and on a complaint being made by the elector, the presiding officer can then enter the polling booth, physically verify the claim at both the places…”

A direction to the Election Commission to set aside Rule 49MA of the Conduct of Election Rules, except for the procedure prescribed for purpose of creating a statistical record of the complaints, has thus been prayed for. Another direction to the EC to register the complaint of any deviant behavior of the electronic machines/equipment has also been sought.

The Court issued notice to the Election Commission and the Centre.

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