The three-member Election Commission on Wednesday rejected the demand from 22 opposition parties to first verify voter paper trail (VVPAT) slips before counting of votes for the Lok Sabha elections 2019 on Thursday.
The poll body held the crucial meeting after the parties approached it on Tuesday over reports of alleged EVM tampering and calling for transparency in the counting process.
Also, protests erupted in Uttar Pradesh on Tuesday after videos of alleged movement and tampering of EVMs went viral on social media.
Former President Pranab Mukherjee also stepped in to say that the onus is on the EC to put all speculation around these machines to rest.
The Congress also said the EC should take immediate and effective steps to address the complaints of movement of EVMs from strongrooms in various parts of the country.
Dismissing as "frivolous" and "unfounded" the allegations of EVM tampering, the EC said the voting machines used for the seven-phase polls that began on April 11 and ended on May 19 are "absolutely safe" in strongrooms.
Amid allegations and complaints that fresh EVMs were being switched with those used in elections ahead of counting of votes on Thursday, the Commission came out with a statement to "emphatically and unambiguously" clarify that all such reports and allegations are "absolutely false, and factually incorrect."
It said the visuals available on TV and social media "do not pertain to any EVMs used during the polls".
Exit polls on Sunday projected that the NDA will retain power at the Centre.
Already locked in a battle with the EC over the reliability of the EVMs, the opposition also got fresh ammunition to press for their demand of increasing the tallying the paper trail of votes (VVPATs) with EVM figures and submitted a memorandum to the poll panel.
In the memorandum, leaders of 22 opposition parties including from the Congress, the DMK, the TDP and the BSP demanded that the verification of VVPAT slips of randomly identified five polling stations in an assembly segment should be done prior to the initiation of counting of votes and not after the completion of last round of counting.
"If any discrepancy is found anywhere during the VVPAT verification, 100% counting of paper slips of VVPATs of all polling stations of that assembly segment should be done," the memorandum stated.
The meeting came on a day the Supreme Court dismissed a PIL seeking 100 per cent matching of VVPAT slips with the EVMs.
"We are asking the EC to respect the mandate of people. It cannot be manipulated," Telugu Desam Party (TDP) chief N Chandrababu Naidu told reporters.
Wading into the controversy over the EVMs, Mukherjee, in a rare intervention after demitting office in 2017, said there can be no room for speculation that challenges the very basis of Indian democracy.
He expressed concern over the alleged tampering of voters' verdict, saying the onus of ensuring institutional integrity lies with the Election Commission, which should put all speculation to rest.
"I am concerned at reports of alleged tampering of voters' verdict. The safety and security of EVMs which are in the custody of ECI is the responsibility of the Commission," Mukherjee, a former Congress stalwart, said in a statement posted on his Twitter handle.
As political parties directed their leaders, candidates and workers to remain extra vigilant in all districts where EVMs have been stored, Mukherjee said people's mandate is sacrosanct and has to be above any iota of reasonable doubt.
"The onus of ensuring institutional integrity, in this case, lies with the Election Commission of India. They must do so and put all speculation to rest," he said.
Mukherjee on Monday had lauded the EC for conducting the Lok Sabha polls "perfectly".
The BJP on its part condemned the opposition parties for questioning the credibility of the EVMs and asked them to accept their defeat with grace if people vote Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led government to power again.
BJP leader and Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad took a swipe at the opposition, saying EVMs were fine when its leaders like Mamata Banerjee, N Chandrababu Naidu, Amarinder Singh and Arvind Kejriwal win elections and come to power but they turn unreliable when "it appears that Modi will come back to power".
BSP leader Satish Chandra Mishra alleged "there is large-scale bungling relating to EVMs in Uttar Pradesh. We demand deployment of central forces".
The opposition parties also raised concerns over the transportation of EVMs ahead of counting of votes and urged the EC to probe the issue.
As the videos of alleged movement and tampering of EVMs went viral on social media, workers of various parties held protests in Ghazipur, Chandauli and Dumariyaganj, alleging that EVMs were being "moved around" outside strongrooms.
Congress spokesperson Rajeev Shukla said complaints about the movement of EVMs are coming from various parts of the country.
"In Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Haryana, Punjab -- there are complaints of taking out the EVMs from strongrooms from various places. People's suspicion and anger are increasing," he said.
The reason that was being given was these were the reserve machines, but even then, the EVMs should be shown to the candidates' representatives, he added.
UP's Chief Electoral Officer Venkateshwarlu allayed fears of tampering of EVMs.
"There are CCTV cameras installed in strong rooms. Candidates are allowed to keep a watch on strong rooms through their representatives. All apprehensions are unfounded," he said.
(With PTI inputs)