The Election Commission on Wednesday sought an urgent hearing in the Supreme Court on its plea alleging that Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) and VVPAT machines used in the Assembly polls of six States are lying unused as they are preserved due to an order extending the limitation period for filing pleas, including election petitions, during the second wave of COVID-19.
A Bench headed by Chief Justice N. V. Ramana agreed to hear next week the EC’s plea after senior advocate Vikas Singh submitted a large number of EVMs and Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail machines (VVPATs) are still being preserved and need to be released.
He sought that a timeline be fixed for filing election petitions relating to Assembly polls of Assam, Kerala, Delhi, Puducherry, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal.
“We have to maintain these EVMs and VVPAT machines and hearing is necessary as elections in States such as Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Punjab are coming up,” the senior lawyer said, adding that these machines would be needed for upcoming polls.
“Alright, we will fix it next week,” said the Bench which also comprised justices Surya Kant and A. S. Bopanna.
Taking note of the onset of the second COVID-19 wave, the CJI-led Bench, on April 27, 2021, had relaxed the statutory period for filing petitions, including the election petitions, under the Representation of the People Act, 1951.
Consequently, anybody can still file a plea challenging the election of a returned candidate and as per procedure, the poll panel is required to preserve EVMs and VVPAT machines, having evidentiary value, to put forth its views in judicial proceedings.
“Resultantly, all the EVMs and VVPATs belonging to the Election Commission of India that were used in recently held Assembly Elections are blocked and cannot be used in future/upcoming elections,” the plea said.
“The poll panel is seeking appropriate directions from this court fixing a timeline for filing of Election Petitions in the States/Union Territories of Assam, Kerala, NCT of Delhi, Puducherry, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal, as in absence of the same, all EVMs used in these States/Union Territories are currently stuck or unable to be used/deployed for upcoming/future elections due to the Order dated 27.04.2021 passed by this court...,” it said.
As a result of the apex court’s order, the EC is unable to use a substantial number of EVMs.
“The same is a cause for concern for the Election Commission as it is scheduled to conduct Assembly elections in a few States next year. In this context, it is pertinent to note that the term of Legislative Assemblies of Goa, Manipur, Uttarakhand, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh are coming to an end in 2022,” it said.
The panel gave the numbers of EVMs and VVPAT machines used in these Assembly polls in six States.
It would be in the interests of justice that the plea of EC is allowed by fixing of the timeline for filing of the election petitions so that the EVMs and VVPAT machines in recent polls may be released on the basis of the status of filing of Election Petitions by that due date.
“It is trite to mention that the Election Commission releases for reuse only those EVMs which have been used in constituencies in respect of which no Election Petition/Writ Petition has been filed raising any EVM related issue,” it said.