The EVMs and VVPATs are lying unused as they are preserved due to an order extending the limitation period for filing pleas, including election petitions, during the second wave of COVID-19.
Uncertainty looms over the assembly polls due in five states early next year as the Election Commission has moved the Supreme Court seeking timely release of the EVMs and VVPATs used in state elections last year and this year, lying unused as they are preserved due to an order extending the limitation period for filing pleas, including election petitions, during the second wave of COVID-19.
A bench headed by Chief Justice N V Ramana has agreed to hear the Election Commission’s plea next week. Senior advocate Vikas Singh has sought that a timeline be fixed for filing election petitions relating to the assembly polls of Assam, Kerala, Delhi, Puducherry, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal.
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“We have to maintain these EVMs and VVPAT machines and hearing is necessary as elections in states like Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Punjab are coming up,” the senior lawyer said, adding that these machines would be needed for upcoming polls.
“Alright, we will fix it next week,” said the bench which also comprised justices Surya Kant and A S Bopanna.
Taking note of the onset of the second COVID wave, the CJI-led bench, on April 27, 2021, had relaxed the statutory period for filing petitions, including the election petitions, under the Representation of the People Act, 1951.
As per the rules, EVMs and VVPATs have to be kept untouched for 45 days from the declaration of results, which is the time limit for a defeated candidate to file a petition challenging the results. If no petition is filed within the time frame, the voting machines can be released for re-use.
“Resultantly, all the EVMs and VVPATs belonging to the Election Commission of India that were used in recently held Assembly Elections are blocked and cannot be used in future/upcoming elections,” the plea said.
“The poll panel is seeking appropriate directions from this court fixing a timeline for filing of Election Petitions in the States/Union Territories of Assam, Kerala, NCT of Delhi, Puducherry, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal, as in absence of the same, all EVMs used in these States/Union Territories are currently stuck or unable to be used/deployed for upcoming/future elections due to the Order dated 27.04.2021 passed by this court…,” it said.
As a result of the top court’s order, the EC is unable to use a substantial number of EVMs.
“The same is a cause for concern for the Election Commission as it is scheduled to conduct assembly elections in a few states next year. In this context it is pertinent to note that the term of Legislative Assemblies of Goa, Manipur, Uttarakhand, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh are coming to an end in 2022,” it said.
The panel gave the numbers of EVMs and VVPAT machines used in these assembly polls in six states.
It would be in the interests of justice that the plea of EC is allowed by fixing of the timeline for filing of the election petitions so that the EVMs and VVPAT machines in recent polls may be released on the basis of the status of filing of Election Petitions by that due date.