’Hands-off approach’ needed: SC refuses to direct ECI to upload voter turnout data amid Lok Sabha elections

Refusing any direction to ECI, the Supreme Court said that five phases of polling have been concluded, two remain, and it would be difficult for the poll panel to mobilise manpower.

Livemint
First Published24 May 2024
The Supreme Court of India (ANI)
The Supreme Court of India (ANI)(HT_PRINT)

Stating that a “hands-off approach” needs to be adopted, the Supreme Court on Friday refused an NGO's plea to issue the Election Commission of India (ECI) directions to upload polling station-wise voter turnout data on its website during the Lok Sabha 2024 polls.

A vacation bench of Justices Dipankar Datta and Satish Chandra Sharma pointed out that the ECI would have difficulty mobilising manpower to upload voter turnout data on its website.

Also Read: Lok Sabha Elections 2024: 60% updated voter turnout in phase 5 polling, slightly less than 2019

The court stated that it could not issue any such directions at the moment as five phases of polling have concluded, two remain, and it would be difficult for the poll panel to mobilise manpower.

The apex court also adjourned the interlocutory application (IA) filed by the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) to be listed before the regular bench after the elections, reported PTI

The court pointed out that, prima facie, the prayers in the application appear similar to the main petition pending on the issue since 2019.

“This (IA) has to be taken with the pending writ petition because in between the elections, a hands-off approach has to be adopted,” the court said.

“Granting any relief in IA will amount to granting relief in the main petition, which is pending,” PTI reported, quoting the bench.

Also Read: 'Could be exploited…': ECI opposes release of booth-wise voter turnout data, files affidavit in Supreme Court

ADR's interim application

The ADR has filed an interim application in its 2019 PIL seeking directions to the poll panel that “scanned legible copies of Form 17C Part-I (Account of Votes Recorded)” of all polling stations be uploaded immediately after the polls.

SC sought ECI's response

On May 17, the top court sought the ECI's response within a week to the NGO's plea seeking a direction to upload polling station-wise voter turnout data on its website within 48 hours of the conclusion of polling for each phase of the Lok Sabha elections.

Also Read: 'Correct star campaigners' discourses': EC raps Congress and BJP, asks them to exercise restraint amid LS election

ECI opposed NGO's demand

In its affidavit, the poll panel opposed the NGO's demand, stating that it would “vitiate” the electoral space and cause “chaos” in the poll machinery in the midst of the general elections.

The poll panel had said that there was no legal mandate to provide Form 17C to any person other than the candidate or his agent.

It had also said that public posting of Form 17C—which gives the number of votes polled in a polling station—is not provided in the statutory framework and could lead to mischief and vitiation of the entire electoral space as it increases the possibility of the images being morphed.

“The petitioner is trying to create an entitlement when none exists in the law by way of filing an application in the middle of the election period. It is respectfully reiterated that for credible multiple practical reasons, the result, as per the statutory mandate, is declared on the basis of the data contained in Form 17C at the time as prescribed under the statutory rule regime in existence,” it said.

It further said that “indiscriminate disclosure” of polling station-wise voter turnout data and posting it on a website will cause chaos in the election machinery, which is already in motion for the ongoing Lok Sabha 2024 elections.

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