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EVM, VVPATs’ ‘deviant behaviour’: respond to plea, SC tells ECI

Rule 49 MA of the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961 read with Section 177 of the Indian Penal Code criminalises the reporting of malfunctioning of EVMs and VVPATs.

: The Supreme Court on Monday sought a response from the Election Commission of India (ECI) to a plea to decriminalise the act of reporting “deviant behaviour” manifested in Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) and Verifiable Voter Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) during polling.

A Bench led by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi issued notice to the poll body to explain the requirement for Rule 49 MA of the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961 read with Section 177 of the Indian Penal Code, which criminalises the reporting of malfunctioning of EVMs and VVPATs.

Petitioner Sunil Ahya submitted, “It may not be fair and just to charge an elector for reporting such a deviant behaviour... Yet, presently, in all eventuality, the onus/burden of proof is on the elector, who will face the criminal charges irrespective of whether that reporting is truthful and honest.”

In fact, the rule worked to deter people from coming forth to complain. Such grievances formed an essential ingredient in a continuous exercise for improving the electoral process. The rule infringed upon a citizen's right to freedom of expression, which is a fundamental right of free expression guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution, the petition said.

The Conduct of Elections Rules, 1961 was amended in August 2013 to insert 49MA in order to prescribe the procedure to be followed in case of complaints about alleged wrong particulars of a candidate and/or symbol on paper slip generated by the printer on pressing of the blue button against any candidate on the balloting unit.

The petition explained the various forms of “deviant behaviour” the EVMs and VVPATs could possibly have, including an “unsolicited programme” by ballots cast for one candidate may be transferred, not sequentially, but rather intermittently (at pre-programmed intervals or otherwise) to another candidate.

“And, therefore, where an elector is asked to cast test vote as prescribed under Rule 49MA, he may not be able to reproduce the same result which he was complaining about, one more time in a sequence, because of the intermittent pre-programmed deviant behaviour of the electronic machines,” it said.

Other such “malfunctions” may include printing of paper slips of candidates in such a way that these are likely to face rejection under the Conduct of Election Rules of 1961. A third possibility, the petition said, would be that “VVPATs can be stuffed [just like it used to be done in the traditional ballot boxes], by overriding the 12-second barrier of EVMs.”

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Printable version | Apr 9, 2020 10:56:50 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/evm-vvpats-deviant-behaviour-respond-to-plea-sc-tells-eci/article26979922.ece

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