Ensure postal ballots counted first, guidelines followed: INDIA bloc to EC

The leaders of the alliance stressed that the poll panel should issue clear guidelines on the counting process and ensure that those are implemented.
Congress leader Abhishek Manu Singhvi with INDIA parties leaders comes out after a meeting with the Election Commission of India, in New Delhi, Sunday, June 2, 2024.
Congress leader Abhishek Manu Singhvi with INDIA parties leaders comes out after a meeting with the Election Commission of India, in New Delhi, Sunday, June 2, 2024.PTI

NEW DELHI: Leaders from the INDIA opposition bloc urged the Election Commission (EC) on Sunday to ensure that on June 4, the postal ballots are counted and their results declared before the outcome of the EVMs is announced, and stressed that the poll panel should issue clear guidelines on the counting process and ensure that those are implemented.

A delegation of leaders from the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA) met the full bench of the EC on Sunday, ahead of Tuesday's counting of the votes polled in the Lok Sabha election.

Briefing the media after the meeting, Congress leader Abhishek Singhvi said this was the third time that a delegation of opposition leaders visited the poll panel during the general election and, among other things, urged the officials to ensure that the postal ballots are counted and their results declared before the results of the electronic voting machines (EVMs) are announced.

"This is the third multi-party delegation visiting the EC during this process...We spent time with the EC on two-three major issues. Most important was counting the postal ballots and declaring the results first. This is a very clearly stated statutory rule, which specifically says that you should take up the postal ballots first," Singhvi said.

"Our complaint is that this guideline has been given a go-by. They have repealed the practice," he added.

Congress leader Abhishek Manu Singhvi with INDIA parties leaders comes out after a meeting with the Election Commission of India, in New Delhi, Sunday, June 2, 2024.
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In a letter to the EC, the leaders said the number of postal ballots has gone up significantly in this Lok Sabha election as senior citizens (aged 85 years and above) and differently-abled persons were allowed to cast their votes through this process.

They quoted various rules and guidelines of the EC, including provisions of the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961 and Handbook for Returning Officer and Counting Agents (August 2023), that said the counting of postal ballots shall be done first.

Another letter, signed by 13 opposition leaders, including Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge, Nationalist Congress Party (SP) president Sharad Pawar and CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury, said even as political parties have put in a lot of effort to train their counting agents, the counting officials often fail to fully understand all aspects of the counting process.

Elaborating on the opposition's demands, Yechury said the leaders have requested the EC to ensure that its own guidelines are implemented.

The guidelines include ensuring that the control units of the EVMs are moved through CCTV-monitored corridors and a verification of the date-and-time display of the control units is done.

"This verification is important because unless it is done, there is no authenticity that it is the same control unit that came from the polling booth, that it has not been changed," he said.

Congress leader Abhishek Manu Singhvi with INDIA parties leaders comes out after a meeting with the Election Commission of India, in New Delhi, Sunday, June 2, 2024.
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The Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader also said the start and end time and the date of the polling process should be checked on the control unit.

"The slips and tags that are put when an EVM is sealed should be shown to all the counting agents for verification.

After pressing the button for the results, reconfirming the date of polling is not done ...that has to be ensured," he said.

In their letter, the opposition leaders said the feedback from their counting agents for earlier polls indicates that these slips and tags are not shown to them and when they request to see those, the counting staff demands a written rule or circular stating that these details must be shown to them.

The second letter also laid stress on counting the postal ballots first.

Besides Kharge, Pawar and Yechury, the signatories to this letter included Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) national convenor Arvind Kejriwal, Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav, DMK's TR Baalu, Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader Tejashwi Yadav and National Conference (NC) president Farooq Abdullah.

Earlier in the day, Congress leader Ajay Maken had alleged on X that the counting agents of the poll candidates are not being allowed at the tables of the assistant returning officers (AROs), drawing an immediate rebuttal from the EC.

In a post on the microblogging platform, the chief electoral officer for Delhi said: "It is clarified that counting agents of candidates are allowed at the tables of RO/AROs."

On Saturday, senior leaders of the INDIA bloc met here to discuss their strategy for the counting day, even as the Trinamool Congress (TMC) and People's Democratic Party (PDP) skipped the meeting.

Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge, who presided over the deliberations, said they would meet EC officials on Sunday "to discuss certain issues".

The opposition parties have asked their agents to monitor the vote-counting process closely on Tuesday and ensure that form 17C, which contains the number of votes recorded at each polling station, is shared with them.

Polling for the seven-phase parliamentary election was concluded on Saturday.

Congress leader Abhishek Manu Singhvi with INDIA parties leaders comes out after a meeting with the Election Commission of India, in New Delhi, Sunday, June 2, 2024.
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