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With three days to go before voting for the first phase of 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the Supreme Court today (Monday, April 8) ordered the Election Commission to increase VVPAT verification of EVMs from one per assembly segment or constituency in a Lok Sabha seat to five EVMs per Assembly segment.

The order, passed by a Bench of Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi and Justices Deepak Gupta and Sanjeev Khanna, came on a plea filed by 21 Opposition parties that sought directions to the poll body to randomly verify at least 50 per cent of electronic voting machines (EVMs) using voter-verifiable paper audit trail (VVPAT) slips in the assembly and general elections beginning Thursday, April 11.

The Supreme Court said it is increasing sample verification of VVPAT slips keeping in mind confidence of voters and credibility of electoral process.

This order, the court clarified, was not a commentary on any deficiency in the existing system whereby the Election Commission picks up one EVM every constituency for matching the votes with the paper audit trails.

It directed that the EVMs will continue to be picked up randomly and added that the existing set up of having five officials from the EC should be able to carry out this direction effectively.

“The present direction should not also cause much delay in the declaration of the result,” said the bench.

In the earlier hearings, the Election Commission told the SC Bench that it was in the favour of continuing the existing system of random checking of VVPAT slips from one EVM per assembly segment for the Lok Sabha and assembly polls. It also said the results would be delayed by six whole days if the Opposition parties’ demand is met.

The Opposition, however, countered the EC’s reply stating that they do not mind the delay in results, saying it is not a “serious delay” if it ensures the integrity of the electoral process. “If delay of 5.2 days is to be balanced with the integrity of electoral process, the balance will certainly tilt towards the latter,” they said in an affidavit submitted to the court.

The petitioners include Chandrababu Naidu of the TDP, Sharad Chandra Pawar of the NCP, Congress leader K C Venugopal, TMC leader Derek O’Brien, Sharad Yadav of the Loktantrik Janata Dal, SP leader Akhilesh Yadav, Satish Chandra Mishra of the BSP, DMK leader M K Stalin, AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal and National Congress leader Farooq Abdullah.

The Lok Sabha elections are scheduled to be held in seven phases from April 11 to May 19 this year. The counting of votes for all phases will take place on May 23.

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