Chennai, Sep 21: The Madras High Court today directed the Tamil Nadu State Election Commission (SEC) to start using Electronic Voting Machines in the coming local body elections wherever possible and also try posting central government employees in identified sensitive booths.
A bench comprising justices Huluvadi G Ramesh and K Ravichandra Baabu gave the direction while disposing of a batch of petitions related to the civic elections.
It rejected the contention of the SEC that though provision had been made for using EVMs in the urban local bodies election under the District Municipalities Act, no equivalent provision had been made under the Tamil Nadu Panchayats Act. Section 61-A of Representation of People Act (RPA) provides for use of EVMs in elections.
RPA does not limit itself to the parliamentary elections, but to all types of elections in which votes are cast by citizens in electing their representatives. That being the case, the central act would prevail over any state Act not in conformity with the central legislation.
Therefore, there would be no embargo on the SEC to use EVMs in the rural local body elections, it said. The bench had earlier reserved orders on the petitions by DMK, PMK and others seeking various directions, including using EVMs and deploying central government officials, to conduct the Urban and Rural Local Bodies Election, 2016.
The petitioners had also sought delimitation of wards and reservation in terms of 2011 census. On the prayer for usage of EVMs, the bench said "...this court directs that the State Election Commission may, as suggested by it on an experimental basis wherever it is possible start using EVMs in the urban local bodies election for the present election."
It also said the SEC may also try using "Multi Point Single Choice Electronic Voting Machines" in the panchayat elections so that its feasibility and viability can be assessed and based on the outcome, the system can be implemented in phases over the period of next five years so as to enable usage of the EVM's in its entirety from the next elections.
The bench rejected the plea for posting central government officials in the conduct of the local body elections on apprehension that state government officials could very well take sides with ruling party as they were at 'its mercy'.
"Mere apprehension could not take the place of actual proof. There is nothing on record to suggest that the state government employees would sideline with the ruling party in the ensuing elections to the detriment of the citizens," the court said.
However, it said the apprehension of the petitioners also could not be brushed aside as such. For the free and fair conduct of poll, "this court feels that the SEC may try and identity vulnerable polling booths throughout the state and try to induct central government employees as polling officers and observers so that the sanctity of the election was not questioned."
The court rejected the prayer to direct the SEC to conduct the elections on the basis of 2011 Census, saying delimitation was a cumbersome and highly time consuming process and the polls the local bodies require to be conducted before October 24.
It directed the state government to take earnest efforts to have the work of delimitation of the wards carried out so as to fulfill the obligations cast on the state immediately on the completion of the local bodies elections.