EVM Guidelines Implementation: Bombay HC Sits And Disposes Of Congress Candidate's Plea On A Sunday [Read Order]
“We are assured by the learned Returning Officer that as far as possible, the efforts shall be made to meticulously comply with each and every direction or guideline of the Election Commission of India in the conduct of poll as well as post-poll arrangement.”
We have heard about midnight hearings conducted by the Supreme Court and the High Courts, but rarely about a Court sitting on a 'Sunday', which is a holiday for all courts in India. In quite a rare instance, the Nagpur Bench of the Bombay High Court not only heard a writ petition but also passed an order disposing it, on a Sunday.
The bench of Justice Ravi K. Deshpande and Justice S.M. Modak disposed of a petition filed by Nagpur Sahar (Zilla) Congress Committee and Congress Candidate from Nagpur Nana Patole seeking implementation of the guidelines of the Election Commission of India in respect of EVMs and VVPATs/Control Unit/Ballot Unit for the election. The petition which came up for admission on Saturday, was posted for Sunday, by the bench, seeking response from Returning officer, observing that the Nagpur Lok Sabha constituency is 'sensitive'.
In its order today, the bench explained why it entertained this petition with such urgency.
"The safety and security of the sensitive machines and other electronic equipments used in the process is also of utmost importance. The representation or participation to the candidates and their representatives in the conduct of election has to be in an effective manner, as is provided in the guidelines laid down by the Election Commission of India with an object of maintaining the trust and confidence in the entire system, including conduct of elections by the officers responsible for it. It is from that point of view, in the interest of all the candidates and public at large, we are entertaining this petition so that the public grievance is satisfied as far as possible, leaving minimum scope for any controversy about violation of the guidelines, and the further that the process of election remains transparent and fair."
One of the grievances was that the representatives of the candidates are not being permitted to put 1000 strokes on each selected EVM as per the guidelines of the Election Commission of India. The bench recorded the returning officer's submission that there shall be no problem in permitting the representatives of all the candidates to put 1000 strokes on each selected EVM.
Another issue raised was that on the day of polling, the mock polls are conducted by permitting the candidates or their agents to put 50 strokes in EVMs randomly. According to them, if at all there is any tampering, it would be discovered if more than 50 strokes are permitted because the mock drills are designed suitably to conduct only 50 strokes. However, the returning officer sternly opposed this request, and thus the bench observed thus:
"We, therefore, keep this question as to whether the EVM and its connected units are designed to favour or disfavour any candidate at an election, open to be agitated at appropriate point of time in appropriate proceedings, without entering into this controversy on merits for the present. "
The court also did not make any comment on returning officer's statement that neither the videography nor the CCTV footages after the first level check was over and the second level check was to begin, can be supplied to the candidates. The court closed the petition with this observation
"We are assured by the learned Returning Officer that as far as possible, the efforts shall be made to meticulously comply with each and every direction or guideline of the Election Commission of India in the conduct of poll as well as post-poll arrangement."
The Returning officer also brought to the bench's attention that a news channel "TV¬9 Marathi", has given a wrong report that the High Court directed the Election Commission to provide strong room footages of EVMs to the petitioner Shri Nana Patole. The bench's response to this is an interesting read:
"It can hardly be a matter of comment by this Court. The public at large would normally go by the terms of the order passed by the Court rather than believing the rumours and distorted version of the order passed by this Court published in the news channel. We believe that the right of freedom of speech and expression conferred on the media under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India is exercised after going through the entire contents of the order passed by the Court, which we believe to be very clear, conveying the specific directions of the Court, and the people, after going through it, understands the mischief or distorted version of the order passed by this Court, if any, published either on the social media or under the news item."