The Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected the voter verifiable paper audit trail or VVPAT review plea of 21 opposition leaders led by Andhra Pradesh chief minister N Chandrababu Naidu, who came unexpectedly to the hearing but returned dejected as it was dismissed in about a minute.
Naidu, along with National Conference's Farooq Abdullah and Communist Party of India MP D Raja, was present in the courtroom to watch the proceedings wherein the top court refused to modify its April 8 order directing the Election Commission to increase random matching of VVPAT slips with EVMs from one to five polling booths per assembly segment in the Lok Sabha elections.
The review plea demanded that random matching of VVPAT slips with EVMs be further raised to at least 25 per cent from five polling booths.
"We are not inclined to modify our order," a bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi told senior advocates A M Singhvi and Kapil Sibal, who were appearing for the petitioners.
The April 8 order had said that increasing the random matching to five polling booths will provide greater satisfaction not just to political parties but the entire electorate.
Singhvi on Tuesday told the bench, which also comprised Justices Deepak Gupta and Sanjiv Khanna, that random matching of VVPAT slips with electronic voting machines should be increased to at least 25 per cent as against the present 2 per cent.
"The Supreme Court had increased it from one to five (polling booths per assembly segment). We have asked for 50 per cent but we will be happy with 33 or even 25 per cent. We want at least 25 per cent. It is for increasing satisfaction and confidence building measure," he told the bench.
He said the number of random matching of VVPAT slips with EVMs should be "viable" and the order for increasing it to five polling booths per assembly segment would amount to only 2 per cent.
When the apex court said it would not modify the April 8 order, Singhvi said, "Suppose they (EC) find any fault in five, then? There is no guidelines for this".
Sibal also joined the arguments and said the poll panel had earlier "misled the court" on this aspect.
To this, the CJI said, "This is a review petition. We are not obliged to hear you in an open court."
The 21 opposition leaders had sought a review of the apex court's order, saying the "increase from one to five is not a reasonable number and does not lead to satisfaction desired by this court".
"The petitioners submit that the aforesaid increase to a mere 2 per cent is not sufficient and will not make any substantial difference to the situation that existed prior to the passing of the impugned order," they said.
"Therefore, even though the petitioners have succeeded on merits of their contention, their success does not resolve their grievance or cause any meaningful change to the situation that they were originally aggrieved," their plea said.
Referring to earlier observations of the apex court, it said the 2 per cent increase in random matching of VVPAT slips with EVMs would not achieve the purpose of raising "public confidence in the integrity of the electoral process".
The plea opposed the poll panel's argument, which was earlier accepted by the court, that as the elections were nearby and hence it would not be viable to increase the number of random matching of VVPAT slips with EVMs.
"It is submitted that, once this court agrees that the number of EVMs that should be subjected to VVPAT verification should be increased to a 'reasonable number', not increasing the same to a number which is 'reasonable' because it may not be 'viable' to do so renders the entire exercise otiose and futile," the plea had said.
Consequently, the 'viable number' must also necessarily be reasonable, it had said, alleging that at many booths in Andhra Pradesh, the VVPAT machines were not working properly.
Reacting to the apex court's decision, Naidu said he would not give up the fight for transparency in the election process.
"We respect the Supreme Court's order...but the party will not give up and continue its fight for transparency in the election process in the country. It's absolutely critical for the EC to work transparently to ensure free and fair elections," Naidu said in a statement.
The Election Commission should be responsible for the honest execution of the Supreme Court's April 8 order. In case of any discrepancy, VVPAT slips should be matched with EVM results in the entire constituency, the Telugu Desam Party chief said.
On the EC's claim that the counting of all VVPAT slips may delay the results by five days, Naidu said, "It's just a matter of a few days. The poll panel should choose credibility and transparency over other things."
The TDP had earlier alleged large-scale EVM malfunctioning in Andhra Pradesh during the April 11 elections for the 25 Lok Sbha seats and to elect a new 175-member assembly.