SC Refuses to Direct EC to Release Voter Turnout Data Amid Polls

The Asian Age.  | Rakesh K. Singh

India, All India

Bench says a "hands-off attitude" needs to be adopted during the ongoing electoral exercise

Supreme Court. (ANI)


NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Friday refused to entertain an NGO's plea to issue direction to the Election Commission (EC) to upload polling station-wise voter turnout data on its website within 48 hours of completion of each phase of polls during the ongoing Lok Sabha elections, saying a "hands-off attitude" needs to be adopted during the ongoing electoral exercise.

A vacation bench of Justices Dipankar Datta and Satish Chandra Sharma adjourned the hearing on the application filed by an NGO, Association for Democratic Reforms, and said it will be heard with its writ petition filed in 2019 after the ongoing Lok Sabha elections are over.

In its order, the top court said, "The arguments on the interim application were heard. Prima facie, we are not inclined to grant any relief on the interim application at this stage in view of the similarities between prayer 'A' of the interim application and prayer 'B' of the writ petition out of which the interim application arises. The grant of such interim relief will amount to granting the final relief in the writ petition."

Noting that the 2024 elections are spread over seven phases, out of which five are already over and the sixth is on May 25, the bench said, "This particular compliance that you (the NGO) are insisting upon would require not only manpower but also mandamus (a judicial writ). It is not possible during this period. We have to be conscious of the ground reality and cannot change the process midway."

The bench told NGO’s counsel Dushyant Dave, "Let us tell you, we keep it pending and (will) hear along with Article 32 writ petition after elections are over. In between the elections, a hands-off attitude has to be there.”

Senior advocate Maninder Singh, appearing for the Election Commission, questioned the maintainability of the interim application and claimed it has been filed on the basis of mere suspicion and apprehension coupled with false allegations.

The bench put several questions to Mr Dave about the maintainability of the plea and asked why the interim application filed by the NGO contained an identical prayer made in the writ petition of 2019.

"Prayer 'A' in your (interim) application is Prayer 'B' in your writ petition. That's the final relief you have prayed for in the writ petition. Now, how can you claim it as interim relief?" the bench asked Mr Dave.

The prayer 'A' in the interim application says, "Direct the Election Commission to immediately upload on its website scanned legible copies of Form 17C Part-I (Account of votes recorded) of all polling stations after the close of polling of each phase in the on-going 2024 Lok Sabha elections."

The top court said the NGO's interim application is based on various press notes issued by the poll panel relating to the 2024 polls and asked, "Can a court, by an interim order, grant a relief that is in the nature of a final relief while keeping the writ petition pending?"

On Mr Dave’s submission that it is not adversarial litigation and the NGO has approached the court for a genuine public cause as the Election Commission, after the first two phases of polling, came out with a voter turnout figure that was substantially higher than what it had initially given, the bench said, "We are not so strict on PILs if they involve a public cause."

The top court said, "We find many PILs have private interest, publicity interest and paisa interest. So therefore, it is for us to put a check on frivolous writ petitions."

In its affidavit, the Election Commission has opposed the NGO's demand, contending that if the reliefs sought are granted, it will "vitiate" the electoral space and cause "chaos" in the poll machinery in the midst of the general election.