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SC seeks EC’s response on plea against voter prosecution; EC to decide on MCC violation by top political leaders –Current Affairs

The Supreme Court sought a response from the EC on a plea against the prosecution of elector for complaining against EVMs and VVPATs.

Apr 30, 2019 11:42 IST
SC seeks EC’s response on plea against voter prosecution

Story 1- Supreme Court seeks EC response on plea against voter prosecution

The Supreme Court on April 29, 2019 sought a response from the Election Commission on a plea seeking abolition of a provision in election rules that provides for prosecution of an elector if a complaint alleging malfunctioning of EVMs and VVPATs turns out to be false.

The plea, filed by Mumbai-based lawyer Sunil Ahya, was heard by a three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi. The bench also comprising Justices Deepak Gupta and Sanjiv Khanna took note of the plea, which alleged that Rule 49MA of 'The Conduct of Elections Rules' was unconstitutional as it criminalises reporting of malfunctioning of Electronic Voting Machines and Voter Verified Paper Audit Trails.

Rule 49MA

Under the rule, where printer for paper trail is used, if an elector after having recorded his vote under rule 49M alleges that the paper slip generated by the printer has shown the name or symbol of a candidate other than the one he voted for, the presiding officer shall obtain a written declaration from the elector as to the allegation, after warning the elector about the consequence of making a false declaration.

The rules outline that if after investigation, the allegation of EVM malfunctioning is found to be false or incorrect, then the complainant can be prosecuted under Section 177 of the Indian Penal Code for "furnishing false information".

In such a case, a jail term of six months or a fine of Rs 1,000 or both is guaranteed.

Key Highlights

The petition contended that the obligation of proving an allegation cannot be on the voter when machines used for voting showed ‘arbitrary deviant behaviour’.

It also alleged that putting the responsibility on the elector in cases of arbitrary deviant behaviour of machines used in the election process, infringes upon a citizen's right to freedom of expression under the Constitution.

The plea sought a direction to the EC to register a complaint of any deviant behaviour of equipment used in the election process.

The petition said that presently, the burden of proof rests on the elector for reporting any deviant behaviour of EVMs and VVPATs, who will face criminal charges irrespective of whether the complaint was truthful and honest.

It said that when an elector is asked to cast test vote as prescribed under Rule 49MA, he may not be able to reproduce the same result which he was complaining about, one more time in a sequence, because of the pre-programmed deviant behaviour of the electronic machines.

The plea argued that holding an elector accountable for deviant behaviours of EVMs and VVPATs could deter them from coming forth and making any complaint, which is essential for improving the process.

What is the process of reporting malfunctioning of EVMs?

While reporting the deviant behaviour of an EVM used in the election process, an elector is required  to cast two votes, first one in secrecy and the second a test vote in the presence of the candidates or polling agents.

According to the petition, the test vote cast subsequently in the presence of others cannot become conclusive evidence of the deviant behaviour or otherwise of the previous vote cast in absolute secrecy.

It also added that since only an elector could be a witness to the secrecy of his vote cast, it would violate Article 20(3) of the Constitution which says that no person accused of an offence shall be compelled to be a witness against himself.

The apex court bench issued a notice to the Centre on the plea filed by Sunil Ahya.

Story 2- EC to decide on alleged violation of MCC by top political leaders

The Election Commission is scheduled to meet on April 30, 2019 in New Delhi to decide on the alleged violation of the model code of conduct (MCC) by top political leaders. The information was shared by Deputy Election Commissioner Chandra Bhushan Kumar during a press conference in the national capital on April 29.

The Deputy Election Commissioner was responding to questions regarding the status of complaints filed against senior BJP leader and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Bharatiya Janata Party President Amit Shah and Congress President Rahul Gandhi for alleged violation of poll norms.

Key Highlights

The decision comes a day after the Supreme Court agreed to hear a petition filed by the Congress party against alleged violations of the MCC by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah.

The two senior BJP leaders face allegations of MCC violations for their alleged hate speeches and using armed forces for "political propaganda".

Addressing a rally in Ausa of Latur in Maharashtra on April 9, PM Modi had urged young voters to cast ballots in the name of heroes of the Balakot air strike.

Amit Shah, on the other hand, faces allegation for MCC violation for his remarks on “Modi ji ki vayu sena”, which he made in West Bengal.

The Election Commission in circulars dated March 9 and 19 had prohibited invoking Armed Forces during the poll campaign.

The Congress President is under EC lens due to his alleged “chowkidar chor hai” jibe. The transcripts of his two media interactions in which he had reportedly made these remarks have been obtained and it is under the consideration of the Commission.

Other Details

The Election Commission officials are also meeting to discuss Assembly Elections in Jammu and Kashmir, which would be attended by concerned officials from the state.

The BJP in June 2018 had pulled itself out of the coalition with the People's Democratic Party (PDP) in Jammu and Kashmir. It was the second largest party in the Legislative Assembly with 25 members.

The BJP and the PDP were in an alliance in Jammu and Kashmir since 2016. PDP's Mehbooba Mufti had become the chief minister of the coalition government. The two parties together had 53 MLAs in the state assembly, the PDP with 28 and the BJP with 25.

Hence, the BJP's decision to withdraw support left the Mufti government in minority, following which the Chief Minister gave in her resignation from the post. Since then, the state has been under the President's rule.

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