SC prefers ‘hands-off approach’ to plea demanding for total voters turnout list

New Delhi:  In an interesting move, the Spreme Court on Friday deferred the hearing of an application that sought directives for the Election Commission of India (ECI) to disclose booth-wise absolute voter turnout numbers and upload Form 17C records of votes polled on its official website. This application was brought forward by the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) and politician Mahua Moitra.

The Vacation Bench, comprising Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice Satish Chandra Sharma, reviewed the application but declined to pass any immediate orders. The Bench commented, “We did not find any merit in the prayers to issue any direction to the ECI.” The judges observed that the interim plea mirrored a prior petition that has been pending since 2019. Hence, they decided not to entertain it at this juncture, reasoning that granting interim relief would effectively resolve the core issue prematurely.

The ADR had petitioned the Supreme Court to mandate that the ECI publish polling station-wise voter turnout figures within 48 hours of polling for each phase of the ongoing Lok Sabha elections. However, the court underscored the importance of a non-interventionist stance during the election period, stating, “We are also responsible citizens and we must have a hands-off approach.” The Bench suggested that the matter could be revisited after the completion of the ongoing Lok Sabha elections.

In detailing their decision, the court remarked, “Prima facie, we are not inclined to grant any interim relief since prayer A of the 2019 petition is similar to prayer B of the 2024 application. List the interim plea after (summer) vacation,” without assigning a specific date for the subsequent hearing.

Earlier in the week, the ECI submitted an affidavit to the Supreme Court, expressing concerns about the potential consequences of uploading Form 17C (the record of votes polled) on the public website. The ECI warned that such disclosures could lead to manipulative activities, including the morphing of images, which might generate “widespread discomfort and mistrust” among the public.

The ECI’s affidavit, filed in compliance with a previous Supreme Court order dated May 17, contended that making Form 17C widely available online could disrupt the integrity of the electoral process. They highlighted that the original Form 17C is securely stored in the Strong Room, with copies distributed only to polling agents whose signatures authenticate them, ensuring a traceable one-to-one relationship between each form and its possessor.

The ECI further argued that indiscriminate public posting of these forms increases the risk of them being altered, thereby potentially distorting the counting results and undermining public trust in the electoral process. They emphasized that the current system, which limits access to Form 17C, helps maintain the integrity and security of the election results.

In conclusion, while the Supreme Court did not grant the interim relief sought by the ADR and Mahua Moitra, it called for a detailed response from the ECI. The court’s decision to defer the hearing aligns with its broader approach of minimizing judicial intervention during the election period to preserve the process’s integrity and public confidence. The main petition by ADR remains pending, awaiting further examination by the court post the ongoing election cycle.