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21 leaders of different political parties have filed their rejoinder affidavit in the case in Supreme Court relating to Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) verification of at least 50 percent of EVMs.
Responding to the submissions of the Election Commission of India that VVPAT verification for 50 percent EVMs would cause a delay of 5.2 days for declaring results, the opposition leaders have told the court that the same is not a serious delay if it ensures the integrity of the electoral process.
The affidavit drawn by advocates Saif Mahmood, Amit Bhandari, Avishkar Singhvi and Mayank Mikhail Mukherjee, settled by Senior Advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi and filed through advocate Arjun Singh Bhati, states,
“The petitioners firstly submit that even a delay of 5.2 days in declaring the results of the General Election is not a serious delay in any manner if it ensures the integrity of electoral process.
If the delay of 5.2 days is to be balanced with the integrity of electoral process, the balance will certainly tilt towards the latter.”
Further, they have also submitted that the delay would be 5.2 days only if the ECI does not increase its present workforce which is 1 person per Assembly segment to do the VVPAT verification. Currently, only one booth is verified per Assembly segment. The same takes one hour for 1 person. If 50 percent of the booths are to be verified, it would take 125 hours or 5.2 days.
If this is increased to even 2 persons per booth, the delay would reduce to 2.6 days, the petitioners have submitted.
Senisitising additional election officials and providing one or two extra counting tables is not an “insurmountable difficulty” for the ECI, the petitioners argue.
Regarding the contention of the ECI that the petition is barred by res judicata since two similar cases were earlier heard and disposed of by the Supreme Court, the petitioners have submitted that the two earlier cases did not challenge the guideline of the ECI which provides that VVPAT verification shall be only for one polling station of an Assembly segment.
In the first case of Prakash Joshi v. Election Commission of India, the prayer was to increase the number of EVMs checked against VVPAT. Moreover, this case was filed before the guideline came to be issued by the ECI.
In the second case of Kamal Nath v. Election Commission of India, the prayer was for verification of ten percent VVPAT per assembly segment. The guideline issued by ECI was not challenged in that case too.
The affidavit concludes by stating that the petition is not intended to doubt the credibility of EVMs but only to boost the public confidence in the integrity of the electoral process.
Further, the VVPAT was introduced by way of judicial intervention. Hence, it must be utilised effectively to achieve the purpose for which it was introduced.
If it is merely ornamental, the purpose for which it was introduced will be frustrated, the petitioners contend.
The case is listed for hearing tomorrow.