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SC Declines Directive to Election Commission of India

The Supreme Court on Friday declined to issue any directives to the Election Commission of India (ECI) regarding a plea demanding the immediate disclosure of authenticated voter turnout records, emphasizing the necessity of a “hands-off approach” given that the Lok Sabha elections are currently underway.

A vacation bench of justices Dipankar Datta and Satish Chandra Sharma highlighted the potential implications of judicial interference in the electoral process during an active election period, stressing that such actions could disrupt the ongoing procedures.

“We can’t interrupt something that’s already underway… In between elections, hands-off approach has to be taken. Let the application be heard along with the main writ petition. We cannot interrupt the process. Let us have some trust in the authority,” the bench remarked while deferring the plea by non-profit Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) for immediate publication of booth-wise absolute number of voter turnout on the ECI website. A similar petition by former Trinamool Congress parliamentarian Mahua Moitra, who is a candidate from the Krishnanagar seat in West Bengal, was also listed along with ADR’s plea.

The bench, taking note of submissions by senior counsel Maninder Singh, who appeared for ECI, said that plea was moved after the election process had already begun, and therefore it would not be prudent, especially in the light of settled judicial precedents, to address such concerns during the election process.

“It’s an election spread over seven phases. Tomorrow is the sixth phase. This particular compliance that you are asking for will require manpower and regulatory compliance,” the bench told senior counsel Dushyant Dave, appearing for ADR, and senior counsel Abhishek Manu Singhvi, who represented Moitra.

In its order, the Supreme Court noted that the 2019 petition by ADR asked for a final relief that was akin to the interim application currently under consideration. “How can you ask for an interim relief which is prayed by you as a final relief in the petition? You filed this petition in 2019. What steps did you take to get it listed earlier? Why did you file it in April only after the process began,” the bench asked Dave.

The senior advocate responded that ADR approached the court in public interest and that delay by ECI in publishing authenticated data on the voter turnout has created anxiety among the citizens.

But the bench said that it must be circumspect about the nature of public interest litigations (PIL) and the procedure being followed. “How many PILs we see public interest, publicity interest or paise interest litigations… It is for us to keep a check. We are not saying you don’t have a case on merits, what we are telling you is, you may not have approached at the appropriate stage with a proper prayer,” it observed.

It also commented that ECI seemed to have invited trouble for itself by putting out provisional information through the Voter Turnout App.

“We recall that when we were hearing another petition by the same party (ADR) last month, we specifically asked Mr Singh if there is a statutory requirement to share data on the Voter Turnout App. He said ‘No, we are doing it only for merit and transparency.’ We will have to say that it’s like ‘aa bail mujhe maar’ for them. They are doing something to further transparency and being questioned because of that,” quipped the bench.

With the writing on the wall, Dave and Singhvi agreed to have the hearing adjourned to a date after the completion of the ongoing polls.

The bench then proceeded to record in its order: “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 similarities of the prayer (a) of the interim application with prayer (b) of the writ petition out of which the interim application arises. The grant of relief in the interim application would amount to the grant of final relief. Re-list the application together with the writ petitions before the appropriate bench after vacations. We have not expressed any opinion on merits except the prima facie view indicated above.”

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Source: HT

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