Supreme Court refuses to issue direction compelling ECI to disclose Form 17 C data owing to ongoing elections

The bench opts to keep the petition pending in the Supreme Court till after vacations; the petitioners had sought for court’s direction to the ECI to upload polling station-wise voter turnout data on its website within 48 hours of conclusion of polling

On May 24, the Supreme Court adjourned the plea moved by the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) and Common Cause, which had sought for court’s direction to the Election Commission of India (EC) to upload polling station-wise voter turnout data on its website within 48 hours of conclusion of polling for each phase of the Lok Sabha elections. Expressing reluctance to issue a direction whilst in the middle of the election process, the Supreme Court refused to interfere, choosing to keep the interim plea pending in the Supreme Court. 

As per a report in the LiveLaw, Justice Datta orally remarked that “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.”

After hearing the arguments of both the parties, the vacation bench of Justices Dipankar Datta and Satish Chandra Sharma stated that a “hands-off approach” has to be taken by the Court. It is essential to note that the country will see its 6th Phase of polling tomorrow, on May 25.

Background of the present plea:

The present plea was moved as an Interlocutory Application before the Supreme Court on May 10 in their 2019 Public Interest Litigation (PIL). The said 2019 PIL, which had been filed by TMC leader Mahua Moitra, had also sought for investigation into alleged discrepancies on voter turnout data during the 2019 General elections. In the present IA, the petitioners have urged the Court to issue directions to the poll panel to upload “scanned legible copies of Form 17C Part-I (Account of Votes Recorded)” of all polling stations immediately after the polls. 

In their plea, the petitioners had stated that in the ongoing Lok Sabha elections, the ECI published voter turnout data after several days. As per the details provided, the data regarding the first phase of polling held on April 19 was published after eleven days while the second phase of polling held on April 26 was published after four days. In addition to this, the petition highlighted that there was a variation of over 5% in the final voter turnout data from the initial data released on the polling day.

The plea had also pointed to the “inordinate” delay in the release of final voter turnout data. The same was coupled with the unusually high revision of over 5 per cent in the voter turnout, specified in the poll panel’s press note of April 30, 2024, which has raised concerns and public suspicion regarding the correctness of the said data. As specified in the plea, the non-release of the absolute number of votes polled coupled with the “unreasonable delay” in the release of votes polled data has led to apprehensions in the mind of the electorate about the sharp increase between initial data and data released on April 30. Thus, citing upholding of the democratic process of election as well as ensuring that electoral irregularities do not subvert the same, the present IA was moved before the Court.

Details of the IA can be read here. 

Counter-affidavit filed by the ECI can be accessed here.

Arguments raised by the petitioner:

Senior Advocate Dr Abhishek Manu Singhvi had appeared for the original (2019) petitioner Moitra while Senior Advocate Dushyant Dave had appeared for ADR.

Justice Datta sought clarification from Dave regarding the stated the prayer sought in the IA moved being the same as the prayers in the main 2019 writ petition. Justice Datta questioned whether the main relief in a writ petition be sought in the interim application.

Subsequently, Justice Datta also pointed out that the interim application was filed based on certain press releases of the ECI. Highlighting the same, Justice Datta inquired from the petitioner if subsequent developments can be taken note of in a pending writ petition. 

As per a report in the LiveLaw, Justice Datta asked “What is the nexus between the 2019 and 2024 application? Why didn’t you file a separate WP?” 

Justice Datta also raised questions on the lack of effort shown by the petitioners on getting the matter heard before March 16, the date of notification of election was issued, and then moving the Supreme Court after April 26, when the election process had started. 

Responding to this question, Dave stated that petitioner moved the IA only after there were delays and discrepancies in the disclosures made by the ECI regarding the voter turnout.

Appearing for Moitra, Singhvi urged the Court to not opt for a technical approach while dealing with an important PIL. As per LiveLaw’s report, Justice Datta responded to the same by pointing to the ongoing polling phases. 

“Tomorrow is the 6th phase, 5 phases are over….this particular compliance would require manpower, it is not possible in this process. We have to be very conscious of the ground reality, we feel this could be heard after the vacations,” Justice Datta had told Singhvi.

Arguments raised by the respondent:

Senior Advocate Maninder Singh had appeared for the ECI. At the outset, Singh questioned the maintainability of the petition filed by ADR on the ground that the issues were covered in the judgment in the EVM-VVPAT case. Singh also citied Article 329 of the Constitution, which bars any judicial interference in the middle of the election process.

In addition to this, Singh contended that the ADR’s application was based on “unfounded suspicions” and “false allegations”. He refuted the ADR’s argument that there was a variance of 6% in the final data from the figures published, provided to the court that the variance was of only 1-2%.

Order of the Court:

Based on the arguments raised, the Bench expressed its disinclination to interference in the ongoing electoral process. On perusing the IA moved by the petitioners, the bench also pointed out that the prayers in the present IA were the same as the prayers in the main writ petition filed in 2019. Pointing to the issue that the main relief sought through the 2019 petition cannot be sought in an interim application, the Bench suggested that the application be heard along with the main petition.

The following order was then issued by the bench, as per the LiveLaw report: “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 prayers in the interim application and the writ petition. The grant of relief in the interim application would amount to the grant of final relief. Relist the applications before the appropriate bench after vacations. We have not expressed any opinion on merits apart from the prima facie view expressed above.”

The order can be read here:



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