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Try to verify more VVPATs in coming LS polls, SC tells EC

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Monday favoured increasing the random physical verification of VVPAT slips in the coming Lok Sabha and Assembly polls and told the EC that "no institution should insulate itself from improvement, including the judiciary". It was not the question of "casting aspersions", rather a matter of "satisfaction" of the electorate, the top court said.

It asked the EC to file response as to whether it can increase the number of sample surveys of VVPAT slips from one in each assembly segment for the upcoming general and assembly elections. The court was hearing a plea filed by 21 Opposition leaders, led by Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu, seeking that VVPAT slips of at least 50 per cent of voting machines in each Assembly constituency be checked randomly in the Lok Sabha elections next month.

A bench of Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice Deepak Gupta asked the EC to file its reply on affidavit indicating the reasons of its satisfaction that purity of elections can be maintained and is being maintained. "The Election Commission of India (EC) is fully satisfied that the purity of the elections can be maintained and is being maintained. The Election Commission of India shall indicate the above in an affidavit the basis of satisfaction," the bench said.

It further said, "The Election Commission of India shall also indicate that if the sample survey can be extended to a higher level...the affidavit shall be filed by 4 pm on March 28. The matter is listed for further hearing on April 1."

At the outset, the Bench told Deputy Election Commissioner Sudeep Jain, appearing in person, whether the poll panel can increase the number of random physical verification of VVPAT slips with EVMs from the existing stipulation of only one polling station per Assembly segment. Jain replied that the EC has adequate reasons to believe that there was no requirement for changing the present arrangement of random matching of VVPAT slips with Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) for one polling per assembly segment.

To this the Bench said, "It is not the question of casting aspersions. Rather, it is question of satisfaction. Two is better than one. Tell us, can you do a little more. We would like to increase it. Can you increase it? If you are willing to do it on your own, do it but if not then give the reasons."

Jain replied that the present arrangement of counting of VVPAT slips in one polling booth per Assembly constituency in Assembly polls and in one polling booth in each Assembly segment for Lok Sabha polls has worked well but the poll panel is open to suggestions.

The bench was seemingly dissatisfied with the persistent response of the EC official that the present system has been working well and asked the poll panel to file an affidavit detailing the reasons of its satisfaction that there was no need for any improvement.

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