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Repeated and persistent doubts on EVMs can have contrarian impact of creating distrust: SC

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New Delhi, April 26 (IANS) Rejecting a batch of petitions seeking mandatory cross-verification of the votes cast with Voter-Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) slips, the Supreme Court on Friday said that raising repeated and persistent doubts on Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs), even without supporting evidence, can have the contrarian impact of creating distrust and can reduce citizen participation and confidence in elections.

In his verdict, Justice Sanjiv Khanna said, “The suspicion that the EVMs can be configured or manipulated for repeated or wrong recording of vote(s) to favour a particular candidate should be rejected.”

“We acknowledge the right of voters to question the working of EVMs, which are but an electronic device that has a direct impact on election results. However, it is also necessary to exercise care and caution when we raise aspersions on the integrity of the electoral process.

“Repeated and persistent doubts and despair, even without supporting evidence, can have the contrarian impact of creating distrust. This can reduce citizen participation and confidence in elections, essential for a healthy and robust democracy.”

He added that the credibility of the Election Commission of India (ECI) and integrity of the electoral process earned over the years cannot be chaffed and over-ridden by baroque contemplations and speculation.

Further, Justice Khanna took note of the statement made by ECI officials that the symbol loading process – where a bitmap file of the serial number, name of the candidate and the symbol is uploaded – cannot be equated with the uploading of the software.

“The symbol loading process undertaken by using the symbol loading unit cannot alter or modify the programme/firmware in the VVPAT which has been burnt/loaded in the memory,” he said.

The apex court said that while it acknowledge the fundamental right of voters to ensure their vote is accurately recorded and counted, the same cannot be equated with the right to 100 per cent counting of VVPAT slips, or a right to physical access to the VVPAT slips, which the voter should be permitted to put in the drop box.

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It added that giving physical access to VVPAT slips to voters is “problematic and impractical”, and will lead to misuse, malpractices and disputes.

Saying that the weakness of the ballot paper system is well-known and documented, it rejected the submission to return to the ballot paper system as “foible and unsound.”

“We would be undoing electoral reforms by directing reintroduction of the ballot papers. EVMs offer significant advantages. They have effectively eliminated booth capturing by restricting the rate of vote casting to four votes per minute, thereby prolonging the time needed and thus check insertion of bogus votes.

“EVMs have eliminated invalid votes, which were a major issue with paper ballots and had often sparked disputes during the counting process. Furthermore, EVMs reduce paper usage and alleviate logistical challenges.

“Finally, they provide administrative convenience by expediting the counting process and minimising errors,” the SC said.

Association for Democratic Reforms, one of the petitioners, sought directions to return to the paper ballot system, or that the VVPAT slip be given to the voter to verify and put in the ballot box for counting, and/or there should be 100 per cent counting of the VVPAT slips in addition to electronic counting by the control unit.

The PIL litigants contended that there exists a possibility of manipulating the EVMs and, therefore, the apex court should step in to instill confidence in the voters as they have the right to know that their franchise has been correctly recorded and counted.

Justice Dipankar Datta – who authored a separate opinion, but “whole-heartedly” concurred with Justice Khanna’s verdict – said that the prayer to revert to the “paper ballot system” reveals the real intention of the petitioning association to discredit the system of voting through the EVMs and thereby derail the electoral process that is underway, by creating unnecessary doubts in the minds of the electorate.

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“I have serious doubts as regards the bona fides of the petitioning association when it seeks a reversion to the old order. Irrespective of the fact that in the past efforts of the petitioning association in bringing about electoral reforms have borne fruit, the suggestion put forth appeared inexplicable,” Justice Datta said.

Further, he said that in recent years, a trend has been fast developing of certain vested interest groups endeavouring to undermine the achievements and accomplishments of the nation, earned through the hard work and dedication of its sincere workforce, adding that “there seems to be a concerted effort to discredit, diminish, and weaken the progress of this great nation on every possible frontier.”

In conclusion, Justice Datta said that the petitioners’ apprehensions were misplaced and they have neither been able to demonstrate how the use of EVMs in elections violates the principle of free and fair elections nor have they been able to establish a fundamental right to 100 per cent VVPAT slips tallying with the votes cast.

In April 2019, the Supreme Court ordered the ECI to increase the VVPAT slips from one EVM per Assembly constituency to five.

It had issued guidelines for mandatory verification of VVPAT slips, out of five randomly-selected polling stations, after completing the final round of counting votes recorded in EVMs.

The latest verdict declined to modify the aforesaid directions to increase the number of VVPAT undergoing slip counting for several reasons.

“First, it will increase the time for counting and delay the declaration of results. The manpower required would have to be doubled. Manual counting is prone to human errors and may lead to deliberate mischief. Manual intervention in counting can also create multiple charges of manipulation of results. Further, the data and the results do not indicate any need to increase the number of VVPAT units subjected to manual counting,” the apex court reasoned.

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Justice Khanna passed two directions not because the top court had any doubt, but to only further strengthen the integrity of the election process.

First, all Symbol Loading Units (SLUs) will be sealed on or after May 1 on completion of the symbol loading process and will be kept in the strong room at least for 45 days post declaration of results.

“The candidates or representatives shall sign the seal. The containers containing SLUs shall be kept in strong rooms, along with EVMs, at least for a period of 45 days post declaration of results. They shall be opened, examined and dealt with as in the case of EVMs,” the apex court said.

Second, the burnt memory or microcontroller in 5 per cent of the EVMs per Assembly segment of a parliamentary constituency will be checked and verified by a team of engineers from EVM manufacturers post announcement of results on a written request made by candidates securing second and third-highest votes.

“All candidates or their representatives shall have the option to remain present at the time of verification. Such a request should be made within a period of seven days from the date of the declaration of results…The actual cost or expenses for the said verification will be notified by the ECI and the candidates making the said request will make payment of said expenses. Expenses will be refunded in case EVM is found to be tampered,” ordered the Supreme Court.

It said that the district Election Officer in consultation with the team of engineers will certify the authenticity and intactness of the burnt memory or the microcontroller.

–IANS

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UP man claims sex change operation without his consent, case filed

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Muzaffarnagar, June 21 (IANS) In a bizarre incident, a 20-year-old man in Uttar Pradesh’s Muzaffarnagar has alleged that he was operated for sex change without his consent at a local hospital, the police said.

However, the hospital has claimed that the man underwent the sex reassignment process of his own will.

The 20-year-old man claimed that one Om Prakash used to molest him.

On June 3, the man said Om Prakash took him to the hospital, where he was sedated and deceptively made to undergo an operation.

When he woke up the next morning, he found his genitals were cut off.

“When I woke up, Om Prakash told me that I am a woman now and that he would take me to Lucknow to marry me. He threatened to kill my father if I resisted,” the man said, adding that the doctors and staff at the hospital were colluding with Om Prakash.

Based on a complaint by the man’s father on June 16, the police have arrested Om Prakash.

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However, members of the Bharatiya Kisan Union staged a protest outside the hospital, alleging there was laxity in the police investigation.

According to farmer leader Shyam Pal, the doctors at the hospital were involved in the illegal organ trade.

“I believe there is a very big racket going on here where they remove vital organs of the body and sell them at a higher price,” he said.

Pal also demanded the government to direct the hospital to pay Rs 2 crore compensation to the man and his family.

Ramashish Singh, Circle Officer of Khatauli police station in Muzaffarnagar, said, “There was a case here in which a person was operated for sex change. His family members alleged that he was misled by another person and the operation was done. Whatever allegations have been made by them, have been taken into consideration. Further investigation is underway.”

However, hospital authorities denied the man’s claim that he was deceptively operated on.

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According to Chief Medical Superintendent Kirti Goswami, the man had been coming to the hospital regularly for two months to meet Raza Farooqui, a plastic surgeon.

Goswami said that the man identified as a woman and wanted to undergo sex reassignment surgery.

The Chief Medical Superintendent said that Farooqui referred the man to two psychiatrists to assess his mental condition, which is a prerequisite before a sex-change operation as per law.

The man was operated on only after the two psychiatrists deemed him mentally fit.

“The man came here to get admitted on June 4 and his operation was conducted on June 6. All these procedures are legal and were conducted under the supervision of Farooqui,” Goswami added.

Goswami also claimed that the authorities had a video of the man before his operation, in which he could be seen talking about undergoing an operation to change his gender.

–IANS

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Bengal train collision: Preliminary findings suggest combination of human, procedural lapses

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Kolkata, June 20 (IANS) Preliminary investigation by a joint observation committee in the Kanchanjunga Express–goods train collision on Monday morning suggests that a combination of two procedural lapses was the reason behind the accident, sources said on Thursday.

Sources said that the first procedural lapse was that the “absolute block system” was not followed in the case of the goods train that had hit Kanchanjunga Express from behind.

The absolute block system (ABS) is followed by railways in case the automatic signalling system is inactive within a particular area between two stations. In that case, a train will not be allowed to leave one station unless the preceding train in the same line (the ‘block’) leaves or crosses the next station ahead. However, as per a preliminary report, the goods train was given permission to leave the Rangapani station before the Kanchanjunga Express, which was moving in the same line, crossed the next station which was Chatter Hat.

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Had the ABS been strictly followed in this case the accident, which has taken 11 lives so far, could have been avoided.

While this was the first procedural lapse, as per the preliminary findings, the next human error was on the part of the loco-pilot (now deceased) of the goods train, where he overshot the prescribed speed limit while crossing a distance where the automatic signalling system is non-functional. As per norms, for the trains passing through such a distance, the speed should never exceed 15 km per hour, to maintain a reasonable distance between the two trains passing on the same line.

Preliminary findings suggest that the collision occurred due to the violation of the speed limit between the Rangapani and Chatter Hat stations.

At the same time, sources said, from the impact of the collision on the last four coaches of Kanchanjunga Express, the last two being the parcel coach and guard’s compartment, it was clear that the speed was well above the prescribed limit of 15 km an hour.

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–IANS

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Madhya Pradesh Police arrest over 1K involved in cattle smuggling in 6 months

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Bhopal, June 21 (IANS) The Madhya Pradesh Police have claimed to have registered as many as 575 cases in the last six months related to cattle smuggling and arrested a total of 1,121 people in this connection.

Besides, more than 7,000 cows were rescued from illegal possession during the same period.

The police said that most cases of cattle smuggling were reported in Balaghat, Seoni, Chhindwara, Barwani, Khargone, Burhanpur, Ujjain, Ratlam and Neemuch districts.

A source said the operation against cattle smuggling was carried out extensively following the direction received from Chief Minister Mohan Yadav.

“Several teams of police were formed across the state and the routes that were used frequently for cow trafficking were identified. Sources were developed in particular regions to get real-time information and the cases of 10 years were examined,” a police source said.

The BJP-led Madhya Pradesh government has been strict on cattle smuggling and the sale of meat in open places for the last several years.

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Notably, Chief Minister Mohan Yadav, in one of his initial orders after taking over charge of the CM Office, directed the police to take strict action against cattle smuggling.

The recent action in Mandala where 11 houses were demolished was as part of action against the illegal beef trading in the state, a police officer said.

The action was taken after a tip-off was received that numerous cows had been held captive for slaughtering.

–IANS

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BJP and Congress conspiring to privatise Singareni Collieries, alleges BRS

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Hyderabad, June 21 (IANS) The Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS) on Thursday alleged both the BJP and the Congress were conspiring to privatise Singareni Collieries Company Ltd (SCCL) through the auction of coal mines.

BRS Working President K.T. Rama Rao said the BJP government at the Centre and the Congress government in Telangana were undermining Singareni by opting to auction coal mines in Telangana instead of allocating them directly to Singareni.

He slammed the state government for participating in the auction of mines instead of demanding direct allocation to Singareni.

“The Central government is auctioning more than 60 mines in the country, including Singareni, starting tomorrow. The state government’s participation in the auction contradicts their previous stance of opposing the auction and seeking direct allocation from the Central government to Singareni,” he said.

He also reminded the public that the present Chief Minister A. Revanth Reddy had written a letter to the Central government seeking the cancellation of the Singareni mines auction and requesting direct allocation to Singareni.

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KTR, as the BRS leader is popularly known, questioned Revanth Reddy’s silence now over the Central government’s auction of mines in the Singareni area, considering his opposition earlier.

He claimed that BRS and its government had stalled the auctioning of coal mines in the Singareni area for the past nine years to safeguard Singareni’s future.

“With 16 MPs, neighbouring state’s Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu is trying to halt the privatisation of Vizag Steel Plant and safeguarding their state’s interests. In contrast, the 16 elected MPs from Telangana, both from Congress and BJP, remain silent despite the Central government’s attempt to harm the state’s prospects through the mines auction,” he said.

KTR demanded that all MPs and the two Union Ministers from Telangana should immediately take steps to cancel the Singareni mines auction. He also accused the Central ministers from Telangana of harming the state’s interests by remaining silent on this matter. KTR stated that the same Central government made the Vizag Steel Plant incur losses by not allocating dedicated mines.

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The BRS leader also said that even if companies participate in the auction and get the mining rights, the BRS would cancel the leases “once they come into power after four and a half years”.

–IANS

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Railway to resume Garib Rath Express between Kolkata, Guwahati, Agartala

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Guwahati, June 21 (IANS) The Northeast Frontier Railway (NFR) would resume the services of two pairs of Garib Rath Express on the Agartala-Kolkata and Guwahati-Kolkata routes from next month, officials said here on Thursday.

NFR’s Chief Public Relations Officer Sabyasachi De said that the Garib Rath Express would run on the Agartala-Kolkata route every Wednesday from July 3 and it would run on the Kolkata- Agartala route every Sunday from July 7.

The CPRO said that the Garib Rath Express would run on the Guwahati-Kolkata route every Saturday from July 6. Similarly, the train would run on the Kolkata-Guwahati route every Thursday from July 4.

De said that resuming the services of these express trains would fulfil the long-standing demand of the people of the region. Rail connectivity in the northeast would be strengthened with West Bengal and its capital by these services. This would highly benefit the patients, students, and other commuters of the adjacent states, apart from promoting economic growth and commerce, the CPRO added.

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–IANS

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