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Homechevron_rightIndiachevron_rightSupreme Court defers...

Supreme Court defers voter turnout data plea until after election

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New Delhi: The Supreme Court has decided to adjourn the pleas seeking the release of voter turnout data until after the Lok Sabha election.

Several opposition leaders, including Trinamool leader Mahua Moitra and Congress's Pawan Khera, have raised concerns over possible vote fraud related to Form 17C data.

The pleas requested the Election Commission to release data on votes polled and rejected within 48 hours after polling at each booth. The petition aimed to ensure this data is compiled and published on the Election Commission’s website after each voting phase, starting with the upcoming 2024 Lok Sabha election.

A vacation bench of the Supreme Court reasoned that issuing an immediate ruling could "overburden the Election Commission during polls... by changing the process midway". The bench also noted that five out of seven voting phases had already been completed and that results were due on June 4.

Justices S Narasimha and Sanjay Karol pointed out that the current petition by the Association for Democratic Reforms was similar to a 2019 writ petition by Mahua Moitra, which also sought a protocol for reporting Form 17C data within 48 hours for a Lok Sabha election, a matter that remains unresolved.

"We are simpliciter (directly) adjourning... (and) giving one observation as to why relief cannot be granted at this stage," the court said, adding that this decision did not constitute a dismissal of the pleas. "Prima facie we are not inclined to grant relief at this stage, in view of similarity of prayers... granting interim relief would amount to final relief. Therefore, we list these applications after the vacation."

The court questioned the nexus between the 2019 and 2024 applications and why ADR did not file a separate writ petition, emphasizing that it would not intervene in the middle of an election. "This application will be heard after the election... in-between an election, hands off! We cannot interrupt (the electoral process)... we are also responsible citizens," Justice Datta stated.

The hearing began with senior advocate Maninder Singh, representing the Election Commission, criticizing the petition as a "classic case of abuse of law" and asserting that it aimed to "erode the integrity of the election". "These are false allegations... done only on apprehensions," Singh said.

Singh disputed the opposition leaders' claims of a five to six percent discrepancy in voter data released by the poll panel on voting day compared to updated figures released later; for the first phase, this updated data was released after 11 days.

Opposition leaders, including Mahua Moitra and Pawan Khera, have flagged concerns over possible vote fraud, suggesting that increased votes shown after polling could be illicitly added to a party's tally. However, Singh assured the court, "This is false... data will differ only by one or two percent."

In the previous hearing, the Election Commission argued that there is no legal requirement to release Form 17C data to a "general entity" and that this information only needed to be provided to the polling officer at a booth.

The court acknowledged the importance of considering the petitions but stressed the need to be "very conscious of the ground reality". "Tomorrow (May 25) is the sixth phase... this particular compliance would require manpower (and) we feel this could be heard after the vacation," Justice Datta said.

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TAGS:Supreme CourtVoter TurnoutLok Sabha Elections 2024
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