In the midst of elections, the Supreme Court last week rightly rejected a set of three unrealistic demands — premised on a deep lack of faith in the electronic voting system. These were: first, the electronic voting machines (EVMs) should be replaced by ballot paper; second, there should be 100 per cent verification of voter verifiable paper audit trail (VVPAT) with the EVM count; and third, the voter should be allowed the satisfaction to physically verify the VVPAT slip and put it into the ballot box.

It is possible to infer, as Justice Dipankar Datta implicitly does in his separate but concurring order, that the petitioners had wasted the court’s time by airing unfounded fears, without giving any thought to their damaging impact on voter confidence. But Justice Sanjeev Khanna seized upon the petition as an opportunity to dispel doubts about EVMs. The bench seems to have been guided by the view that while EVMs are no doubt robust, they should also be seen to be so in a democracy. The ruling painstakingly details the process and its safeguards in an effort to allay misgivings. In a bid to bolster voter confidence, additional measures to enhance verification and transparency have been provided. Indeed, Justice Datta is right in venting his exasperation over the EVM controversy.

For too long have political parties made casual allegations against EVMs when they have ended up on the losing side, and completely forgetting about them when they win. There can simply be no question of returning to paper ballot, which was famously clumsy and prone to rigging, besides being hugely cumbersome in a country of over 120 crore people. It is to be hoped that this judgment induces the political class to be more responsible. There are two new aspects to the order, which comes into effect from May 1. First, the symbol loading units (SLUs) which feed the symbols of political parties into the VVPAT machine will be kept along with the EVMs (which includes the ballot unit, VVPAT and control unit) in a sealed room for at least 45 days after the declaration of results. This implies that the Election Commission will immediately have to put more SLUs into the system.

The second change pertains to allowing a losing candidate (in second or third place) to seek an inspection of 5 per cent of the EVMs of her choice in an assembly constituency within seven days of the result. The inspection by the manufacturers of the EVMs would entail examining the ‘burnt memory’ in these EVMs (ballot unit, control unit and VVPAT, besides the SLU) by the manufacturers of the EVMs. The verification process now comprises routine matching of EVM count and VVPAT slips in five polling stations in every assembly constituency, and an additional software inspection if a losing candidate so desires.

The EVMs seem more foolproof than ever before. Let’s not forget that they have delivered diverse winners and losers over time, despite isolated complaints of wrongdoing. It is time that the political class acknowledges this reality and acts responsibly.