New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Tuesday asked the Election Commission of India (EC) to generate a printed record containing the details of the vote cast to ensure elections are more transparent.

“We are satisfied that the paper trail is an indispensable requirement of free and fair elections," said Chief Justice P. Sathasivam. “The confidence of the voters in the EVMs can be achieved only with the introduction of the paper trail."

The apex court’s judgement came in response to a public interest litigation filed by the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP’s) Subramanian Swamy who had claimed that EVMs were not transparent, implying that this made it possible for them to be rigged—so that while the voter thinks he has voted for Party A, the machine registers a vote for Party C. Swamy had asked the court to direct the commission to provide a printed receipt to every voter.

EVMs will now have to be equipped with voter verifiable paper audit trail, or VVPAT, which is “a system of printing paper trail when the voter casts his vote, in addition to the electronic record of the ballot", the judgement said. The paper record generated will have a serial number, name and symbol of candidate for whom the vote was cast.

The judgement also said that “EVMs with VVPAT system ensure the accuracy of the voting system. With an intent to have fullest transparency in the system and to restore the confidence of the voters, it is necessary to set up EVMs with VVPAT system".

“Essentially, a small window will display for about 8 seconds details of your vote. Simultaneously, a slip will come out and will be dropped into a sealed box. The slip will not be given to anyone and the box will be opened only in case of a dispute," said Meenakshi Arora, counsel for the commission.

The order allows EC to introduce EVMs with VVPAT in stages or area-wise in the ensuing general election, indicating that such a system is likely to be implemented in the coming elections.

The commission said that the provision of paper trails would be made available in the state elections scheduled in November and December. To incorporate the new modification, the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961, have also been amended by the government. The court also noted that EC had conducted meetings with all the recognized national and state political parties on 10 May and demonstrated how the VVPAT system will work.

Welcoming the decision, P. Muralidhar Rao, general secretary of the BJP, said the decision will ensure “greater transparency and accountability, which will only benefit democracy in the country".

Congress spokespersons couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

EC has also said that there would not be any serious security and privacy issues with the implementation of the new system.

“We can implement it easily as we have done it earlier in Nagaland. Paper trails would enable voters to visibly see and confirm who they have voted for. Security would not be an issue as the paper trail would get cut and dropped near the voting area itself," said a senior official from EC, who did not want to be named.

The apex court also noted the successful use of VVPAT in “all the 21 polling stations of 51-Noksen (ST) Assembly Constituency of Nagaland", where elections were held on 4 September.

More safeguards need to be taken to prevent any abuse of the new system, said one expert. “I have some apprehension about it. It would be easy for anyone to walk into a police station and complain that he voted for one candidate whereas the paper trail wrongly indicated another," said former chief election commissioner T.S. Krishnamurthy.

“Some safeguards like a close circuit camera are necessary, at least in the initial stages," he added.

Anuja and Gyan Verma contributed to this story.

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