New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Tuesday sought the Election Commission’s response to a PIL for restricting the access to EVMs and VVPATs to security-cleared engineers of PSUs ECL and BEL.
A bench of Justice A.K. Sikri and Justice Ashok Bhushan was told by petitioner Ashish Goyal about alleged security breaches in the physical handling of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) and Voter Verified Paper Audit Trails (VVPATs) by unauthorised persons in contravention of the commission’s Manual on the issue.
The petitioner sought the setting up of a high-powered committee headed by a retired Supreme Court Judge to inquire whether private persons were permitted to handle EVMs in breach of the Manual on EVMs and VVPAT, 2017, since the Assembly elections in 2014 till date.
Seeking submission of a report in the top court in this regard, the petitioner also demanded a formal inquiry into the antecedents of additional private persons permitted to have physical access to the EVMs during the Uttarakhand Assembly elections last year.
He also sought a direction to the Election Commission to urgently put in place necessary safeguards to ensure that the integrity of the EVMs is not compromised.
Contending that breach in EVMs’ integrity posed a threat to the purity of the election process itself, senior counsel Kapil Sibal argued for the petitioner that Chapter 5.4 of the Manual said that the first level of checking of EVMs can be carried out only by authorised engineers of public sector undertakings Electronics Corporation of India Limited (ECL) and Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL).
The petitioner referred to an EC communication dated May 27, 2017, which says that the “… EVMs are not accessible to any unauthorised person at any stage — before, during or after the polls.”
Seeking enforcement of the Manual and the poll panel’s 2017 communication, Goyal pleaded that the court issue a direction to the EC to provide a list of ECL and BEL Engineers who get the security clearance to handle these EVMs to all political parties.
The petitioner also sought directions to the Election Commission for the implementation of September 2006 recommendations of an expert committee on design change and precautions pertaining to EVMs before, during and after the elections.