TODAY -

Time to come clean
- The People's Chronicle Editorial :: May 24, 2024 -



THERE may be no two arguments when the Election Commission of India (ECI) said that it cannot upload Form 17C, which is the record of votes polled at a polling station, on its website as there is no legal mandate to give out the information to anyone other than the candidates and their agents, and such public disclosure of information is 'amenable to mischief and vitiation of (the) entire electoral space.

However, an affidavit submitted by the election conducting authority of the country in the Supreme Court a day ahead of the May 24 hearing on a petition filed jointly by Association for Democratic Reforms (ARD) and Common Cause India seeking immediate publication of voter turnout data in the ongoing Lok Sabha elections seems to have raised more questions than the ECI could argue or give answer satisfactorily.

Responding to the petition seeking directive to 'upload the scanned, legible copies of Form 17C on its website as soon as the polling concludes along with constituency and polling station-wise figures of voter turnout in absolute number and percentage form,' the ECI has explained that there is essentially a fundamental difference between the statutory disclosure of the number of votes recorded in each polling station in the form of Form 17C and its non-statutory, voluntary disclosure of voter turnout on polling day in the form of press releases and its Voter Turnout app.

So, there is no legal mandate for the commission to disclose voter turnout data based on Form 17C, or the record of votes polled in each polling station.

Moreover, the Election Commission argued that in close electoral contests, the margin of victory could be very narrow, and public disclosure of Form 17C could lead to misunderstandings about the total votes polled, and such situations could be exploited by individuals with malicious intent to cast doubt on the entire electoral process and disrupt the election machinery.

Even if one is ready to accept the fact that there is no legal mandate for the Election Commission to disclose voter turnout data based on Form 17C, or the record of votes polled in each polling station, and such public disclosure could be susceptible to misuse; one thing that everyone, including officials sitting at the Nirvachan Sadan in New Delhi, needs to remember is that India is a democratic country where the right to information has been guaranteed to its citizens as a fundamental right under Article 19 (1) of the Indian Constitution with the sole purpose of promoting transparency and accountability in the working of every public authority.

Intrinsic to this constitutionally guaranteed fundamental right is also the voters' right to have access to information for effective functioning of the democracy.

So, the voters' right to information do not confine to the antecedents of candidates in the fray but cover the entire election process for ensuring the integrity, fairness, and transparency of democratic elections.

Whether the Conduct of Election Rules-1961 have any provisions that allow the voters to seek copies of the election papers including Form 17 C or the ECI has no legal mandate for giving out such information that may be misused is beside the point here.

If it has nothing to hide, what is important at the moment is for the poll body to come clean of the numerous questions being posed on its commitment to transparency in the conduct of ongoing elections to the 18th Lok Sabha.

Instead of hitting out at the petitioner and saying that the petition was based on baseless allegations, it is the right opportunity for the ECI to silence every critic and put to rest all 'baseless allegations' by simply uploading 'the scanned, legible copies of Form 17C on its website as soon as the polling concludes along with constituency and polling station-wise figures of voter turnout in absolute number and percentage form'.

Is that too much to ask for from an independent and impartial constitutional body entrusted with the task of conducting free and fair elections in the country?



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