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Supreme Court Declines Interim Order for Immediate Disclosure of Voter Turnout Data by Election Commission

The Supreme Court on Friday declined to issue an interim order on a plea by the NGO Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR). The NGO sought directives for the Election Commission of India (ECI) to release the final authenticated voter turnout data from all polling stations, including the number of votes cast, within 48 hours of polling during the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.

A Vacation Bench of Justices Dipankar Datta and Satish Chandra Sharma observed that the interim relief requested by the NGO mirrored a prayer already present in a main petition pending since 2019.

“Compare prayer B of the 2019 petition with prayer A of the 2024 interim application. Previous Supreme Court decisions clearly indicate this cannot be granted except in very exceptional circumstances. Why was this application not filed earlier on March 16?” the Court questioned.

Senior Advocate Dushyant Dave, representing ADR, explained that the application could only be filed after disclosures by the ECI. Despite this explanation, the Court remained unconvinced and refused to grant interim relief.

“Prima facie, we are not inclined to grant any interim relief since the prayers in the 2019 petition and the 2024 application are similar. List the interim plea after the summer vacation,” the Court ordered, clarifying that no opinion on the merits of the case was expressed beyond this preliminary view.

The Bench was addressing ADR’s application requesting the ECI to disclose final authenticated data of voter turnout and the number of votes cast in the ongoing Lok Sabha elections. This application followed recent controversies over significant discrepancies between initial voter turnout estimates announced on polling days and the final figures published later.

The ECI had earlier stated in an affidavit that there is no legal obligation to publish such data and that doing so could cause confusion among voters due to the inclusion of postal ballot counts. ADR’s application highlighted a notable increase of 5-6% in final voter turnout figures compared to initial estimates, raising concerns among voters and political parties about the accuracy of the data.

The application requested the Court to direct the ECI to upload scanned, legible copies of Form 17C Part-I (Account of Votes Recorded) on its website after each phase of polling, providing constituency and polling station-wise figures in both absolute numbers and percentage forms. Additionally, ADR sought the disclosure of Part-II of Form 17C, which contains candidate-wise results after vote counting.

A Bench of Chief Justice DY Chandrachud and Justices JB Pardiwala and Manoj Misra had previously asked ECI counsel why voter turnout details could not be posted on the website within two days of polling. The ECI responded, arguing that ADR’s claims were baseless and part of a campaign to discredit its operations.

During the hearing, Senior Advocate Maninder Singh, representing the ECI, alleged that ADR’s plea was based on suspicion and apprehensions rather than concrete evidence. Singh contended that the Supreme Court’s prior judgments and the principle of res judicata barred the current plea, asserting that continuous petitions like these erode the credibility of the ECI and could contribute to declining voter turnout.

The Court, noting the lack of new grounds for the interim application, scheduled the matter for further hearing after the summer vacation.

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