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Supreme Court adjourns hearing on Election Commission’s plea regarding use of EVMs and VVPAT machines in future Assembly polls

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New Delhi Sept 9 (ILMS) The Supreme court on Thursday adjourned hearing on an appeal filed by the election commission of india, alleging that EVMs and VVPAT machines used in the assembly polls of six states were lying unused as they were preserved due to an order extending the limitation period for filing pleas, including election petitions, during the second wave of Covid-19. 

A three-judge bench led by Chief Justice N.V. Ramana and also comprising Justices Surya Kant and A.S. Bopanna said, “We have to consider all the matters and not only election petition. List the main matter Suo Motu petition next week.”

An interlocutory application was filed last week in the apex court by the EC in the suo motu case titled as In Re Cognizance for Extension of Limitation arising out of the challenge faced by the country on account of Covid-19 and resultant difficulties that could be faced by the litigants across the country.

The application sought directions for fixing a timeline for filing of election petitions in the States/Union Territories of Assam, Kerala, NCT of Delhi, Puducherry, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal, as in absence of the same, all EVMs used in these States/Union Territories were currently stuck or unable to be used/deployed for upcoming/future elections due to a previous order of the Supreme  Court.

April 27, 2021 order of Supreme Court

On April 27, 2021, the apex court, after taking note of the onset of second wave of Covid-19, had relaxed the statutory period for filing petitions, including the election petitions, under the Representation of the People Act, 1951.

Consequently, anybody can still file a plea challenging the election of a returned candidate and as per procedure, the poll panel is required to preserve EVMs and VVPAT machines, having evidentiary value, to put forth its views in judicial proceedings.

“Resultantly, all the EVMs and VVPATs belonging to the Election Commission of India that were used in recently held Assembly Elections are blocked and cannot be used in future/upcoming elections,” the plea said.

The Court had taken Suo Motu cognisance last year and by its order dated March 23, 2020, directed that the “period of limitation in all such proceedings, irrespective of the limitation prescribed under the general law or Special Laws whether condonable or not shall stand extended with effect from March 15, 2020 till further order/s to be passed by this Court in present proceedings.

“This order may be brought to the notice of all High Courts for being communicated to all subordinate Courts/Tribunals within their respective jurisdiction,” the Court had added.

The apex court, while noting that the country is returning to normalcy and that all the Courts and Tribunals had started functioning either physically or by virtual mode, disposed of the Suo Motu by issuing certain directions, thereby regulating the extension of limitation and bringing it to an end.

Pursuant to the same, the Supreme Court Advocate on Record Association (SCAORA) filed certain Interlocutory Applications (IAs), highlighting the daily surge in Covid-19 cases in Delhi and sought restoration of the order dated March 23, 2020.

ECI application before the apex court 

The ECI referred to the Instruction dated 15.07.2016, issued by the Election Commission of India to the Chief Electoral Officers (CEOs) of all States and Union Territories regarding the period of retention of EVMs used in elections.

Thus, as a result of the statutory provisions/rules, the relevant instructions issued by the Election Commission of India and the Order dated 27.04.2021 passed by the Supreme  Court, the Election Commission of India is unable to use a substantial number of EVMs. The same is a cause for concern for the Election Commission of India as it is scheduled to conduct assembly elections in a few states next year. In this context it is pertinent to note that the term of Legislative Assemblies of Goa, Manipur, Uttarakhand, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh are coming to an end in 2022, the ECI states.

In the Application it was pointed out that in order to ensure proper physical distancing during polls, the Election Commission of India had restricted the number of electors in a polling station to 1000 electors in the latest elections. Therefore, additional polling stations were created in the polling stations where the number of electors was more than 1000. Hence, if we take the same logic, then around 37.73% additional polling stations would need to be created in the aforesaid elections.

Moreover, it was humbly submitted that in order to conduct General Elections to State Legislative Assemblies, generally 135% EVMs and 145% VVPATs (on total polling stations) are provided to States. With expected increase of polling stations, requirement of EVMs and VVPATs may also be further increased i.e. 51% additional EVMs and 55% additional VVPATs need to be allocated in addition to normal requirement of EVMs and VVPATs in these States.

The ECI further mentioned that 37.73% additional polling stations would need to be created in the aforesaid elections. Moreover, it is humbly submitted that in order to conduct General Elections to State Legislative Assemblies, generally 135% EVMs and 145% VVPATs (on total polling stations) are provided to States. With expected increase of polling stations, requirement of EVMs and VVPATs may also be further increased i.e. 51% additional EVMs and 55% additional VVPATs need to be allocated in addition to normal requirement of EVMs and VVPATs in these States.

“The Applicant therefore submits that it would be in the interests of justice that the present Application is allowed and that this Hon’ble Court may kindly direct a timeline for filing Election Petitions during the continuance of the Orders passed by this Hon’ble Court extending the normal statutory period of limitation so that the EVMs/VVPATs used in the States/Union Territories of Assam, Kerala, NCT of Delhi, Puducherry, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal may be released on the basis of the status of filing of Election Petitions by that due date. It is trite to mention that the Election Commission of India releases for reuse only those EVMs which have been used in constituencies in respect of which no Election Petition/Writ Petition has been filed raising any EVM related issue. The Applicant further craves for liberty to file a detailed affidavit, if so required by this Hon’ble Court”, the application reads.

The Application was filed through Advocate Amit Sharma./ILNS/KR/SNG

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