SC asks EC why it can't release electoral rolls in word format in poll-bound MP
New Delhi, Aug 31: The Supreme Court asked the Election Commission of India (ECI) to apprise it about the reasons as to why it cannot release the electoral rolls in word format in poll-bound Madhya Pradesh as done in Rajasthan.
The poll panel reasoned that the electoral rolls were being given in PDF format rather than the word format so that no alteration could be done to it. A bench of Justices A K Sikri and Ashok Bhushan asked the counsel for ECI to take instructions and apprise it as to why it cannot release the electoral rolls in word format like it is being done in Rajasthan.
During the hearing, senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, appearing for Congress leader Kamal Nath, said they are unable to search names when electoral rolls are given in PDF format. "We are one country and one electoral system. Question is when you can give it in Rajasthan, why can't you give in Madhya Pradesh?" he said.
Counsel for the poll panel said the All India Congress Committee (AICC), in which senior advocate Vivek Tankha was also present, had made a representation to the election commission and the panel had given a detailed reply to their representation.
The bench asked the poll panel counsel, "What is the problem in giving the electoral rolls in word format instead of PDF format?" "The word format can be easily changed and the 60 lakh duplicate voters claimed by the petitioner may become 120 lakh," replied the poll panel counsel. The bench then asked the counsel to take instructions as to why electoral rolls cannot be given in word format in Madhya Pradesh as done in Rajasthan. It posted the matter for further hearing on September 10. On August 23, the apex court had agreed to examine the pleas filed by senior Congress leaders Kamal Nath and Sachin Pilot alleging duplication of names in the voters' lists of poll-bound Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. They also sought random verification of Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) machines in the upcoming assembly elections there. Singhvi and Tankha, appearing for Nath and Pilot, had said that directions should be issued to publish the voters' list in a "text format as per rules" and expeditious decisions taken on all complaints before its final publication.
Singhvi said text format was allowed in Rajasthan, but the poll panel was not allowing it in Madhya Pradesh on the grounds of breach of privacy. "Providing the voters' lists in text format is as per rules, then where is the question of breach of privacy?" he said. Singhvi had said that Nath had conducted a survey at his own cost in Madhya Pradesh and found that 61 lakh voters were "fake". "Similar is the case of Rajasthan with regard to duplication of voters where there are over 41 lakh duplicate voters. They have added 71 lakh new voters. Directions should be given to remove the inconsistencies and conduct free and fair elections," he had said.
The plea filed by Nath through advocate Varun Chopra said a direction should be issued to the Election Commission to randomly verify VVPAT slips with Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) votes at 10 per cent of randomly selected polling stations in every constituency. Nath, who is also the Madhya Pradesh Congress chief, said the display time for VVPAT slips for voters should be 15 seconds instead of the current seven seconds.
"Because the paper trail coming out of VVPAT is only visible for seven seconds, majority of voters, who are not well versed with technology, will not be able to look at the paper trail and confirm if the VVPAT is showing the correct slip," it said. The petition has also urged the court to issue a direction to the poll panel to prohibit the deletion of voters from the voters' list without intimation to all political parties.