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VVPAT case: Supreme Court reserves judgment after taking note of EC’s response and says it cannot monitor elections

The Supreme Court on Wednesday reserved its judgment on a batch of pleas seeking complete cross-verification of votes cast using Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) with Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT).

When lawyer Prashant Bhushan raised questions during the hearing on whether the chips used in the EVMs are reprogrammable or not, the Supreme Court said it cannot usurp the role of another constitutional authority and control the elections .

Apparently, Justice Dipankar Dutta asked whether the court can issue a mandamus on the basis of suspicion. The report on which the petitioner’s counsel relies states that there has not yet been a hacking incident. The Justice added that they are not the controlling authority of any other constitutional authority and therefore cannot control the elections.

Earlier in the day, the court had asked the Election Commission to answer its queries on cross-verification of votes cast in EVMs with VVPAT. Election officials were asked to respond to the query by 2 p.m.

The question posed by the bank was: Is there a microcontroller installed in the control unit or VVPAT, and is the microcontroller programmable one time? The committee stated that the EC referred to the symbol loading units and asked how many of them are available. The court pointed out that the EC said that the limitation period for filing election petitions is 30 days, so EVMs are kept for 30 days and as per the representation of the Law of Nations, 45 days, and asked the court to clarify this. The bench further asked whether EVM, VVPAT and control units are stored together or kept separately?

In response, the ECI stated that all three units, the voting units, the vvpat and the chip all have their own microcontrollers and that these microcontrollers are housed in a secure location and cannot be accessed. It added that all microcontrollers are one-time programmable and the program is burned when they are manufactured and they can never be changed. It was also said that the number of Symbol Loading Units (SLU) ECIL and BHEL are two manufacturers. Moreover, it was also clarified that EVMs will be kept in a safe for 45 days.

Nevertheless, Prashant Bhushan argued that the flash memory of the control units can be reprogrammed. Given the response, the Supreme Court said they are not saying flash memory cannot be programmed. Addressing the petitioner’s counsel, the court said that if he is prone to thinking process, they cannot help.

Earlier on April 8, 2019, the Supreme Court directed the Election Commission to increase the number of EVMs subjected to physical VVPAT verification from one to five per assembly segment in a Lok Sabha constituency.