By LE Desk 

Chennai, March 30: The Madras High Court on Tuesday expressed the hope that April 6, the day of polling for the Assembly election in Tamil Nadu, will pass off peacefully and uneventfully. It also impressed upon the Election Commission of India (ECI) the need to be alert, proactive and “most importantly” ensure that the second surge of COVID-19 does not get accelerated by activities on the day of polling.

Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice Senthilkumar Ramamoorthy made the observations while disposing of a petition filed by the DMK seeking directions to the ECI to ensure a free and fair election. They closed the case, having been satisfied with the steps taken by the ECI so far to dispel the fears of the party, The Hindu reported.

Accepting a request by senior counsel P. Wilson, representing the DMK, the judges recorded the submission of the ECI that only M3 Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs), manufactured between 2017 and 2019, would be used for the election. Machines that were much older would not be used at all since they were not compatible with the Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) system.

The court also acceded to a request by senior counsel G. Rajagopalan, representing the ECI, that the commission must be exempted from revealing the details of 537 booths that had been identified as critical and 10,813 booths that had been categorised as vulnerable. The counsel told the court that the details of those 11,350 booths, which were part of the around 44,000 booths spread across the State, could not be shared with parties for security reasons.

When Wilson pointed out that the Returning Officers in Dindigul and Tiruppur districts had shared the details of the critical and vulnerable booths with the parties, the ECI said it had happened by mistake, and the details in respect of other districts could not be revealed. Though the ECI submitted the entire list in a sealed cover, the court returned the cover without opening it. 

Commending the ECI for having filed an elaborate counter-affidavit listing the steps taken to ensure the safety and security of EVMs, before and after polling, the judges wrote: “The counter-affidavit demonstrates a kind of clarity not generally associated with affidavits filed by the officialdom… The matter must be approached with a degree of reasonableness and it must be appreciated given the logistics and the conditions on the ground.”

“It may not be possible for a completely foolproof plan of action to be charted out and the Election Commission would have done well if it reduces the scope of tampering or lessens the doubts in the minds of the participants and conveys a general sense of strict adherence to the guidelines. Towards such end, the counter-affidavit filed by the Election Commission and the specific replies to the queries raised by the court, apropos the areas of concern expressed by the petitioner, indicate a satisfactory level of preparedness that should dispel all apprehensions and even allay legitimate misgivings.”

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