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Preserve People's Mandate, Ensure Fair Elections: Civil Society Groups Write to Returning Officers

"We have not even an iota of doubt about your honesty, integrity and abiding allegiance to the Constitution of India, and this nation depends on it. This is just to remind you that the powers granted to you by “We, the People” through the Constitution and laws are for protecting, preserving and upholding the people’s vote and mandate through free and fair elections."
Illustration: Pariplab Chakraborty

New Delhi: A group of 120 civil society organisations have written to every returning officer in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, asking them to ensure free, fair and accountable counting as questions are raised about the “neutrality and fairness of the ECI [Election Commission of India]”.

This letter was planned at a conclave of 120 civil society organisations from across the country, as well as parties from the INDIA alliance, held in Bangalore on May 21. At this conclave, member of the organising committee and former IAS officer M.G. Devasahayam said that since the doors of the ECI and the Supreme Court have been locked, “it is ‘We, the People’ who must now ensure free and fair elections”.

“We decided to reach out the the people who actually conduct the elections, the returning officers. I have also been an RO, I know they are key. As as the election observers. And these are civil servants from the IAS, the same service as us, and have taken an oath to the Constitution,” Devasahayam told The Wire.

One of the demands mentioned in the letter sent on May 22 is that each candidate must be provided a copy of Form 17C – which provides details on the total number of votes polled per booth. This form has been in the news lately after the ECI told the Supreme Court that it would not make them public. But on May 25, the ECI released the total voting numbers from the first five phases – which too it had earlier refused to do.

“They knew that we are not giving up, so they had to release these numbers,” Devasahayam said. “Otherwise the ECI would become redundant.” But the quest for Form 17C, as well as the fulfilment of their other demands, continues.



The Returning Officers and Observers
General Election to Parliament—2024

Dated: 22 May, 2024

SUB: Appeal letter based on the resolution passed at the Civil Society-Political Parties conclave on Free and Fair elections held at Bangalore on 21 May, 2024.

Dear Sir/Madam,

Representatives of about 120 civil society organisations and political parties met at Bangalore under the banner of “High level Consultative Conclave”. Present, amongst leaders of all grassroots movements and civil society and political parties were, Parakala Prabhakar, MG Devasahayam, Gurdeep Sappal, Ms Teesta Setalwad, Ganesh Devi, Retd Maj General Vombhathkere, Retd Joint Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat Ravi Joshi, Ms Tara Rao, Ms AR Vasavi, Franco Thomas, Noor Sridhar and others. The gathering resolved to address the Returning Officers and Observers of all the 543 Parliamentary Constituencies where General Election-2024 is taking place and would conclude with counting of votes and declaration of results on 04 June, 2024.

We are writing this letter in the backdrop of worries and concerns from the civil society about the manipulations and malpractices in the entire electoral process. General Elections of 2024 is being conducted with multitude of transgressions and violations of the Rules, Manuals and Model Code of Conduct (MCC), as laid down by the Election Commission of India (ECI), an independent Constitutional Body, charged with the mandate of conducting free and fair elections.

In the first 5 phases of the Elections, We the People of India have noticed that the neutrality and fairness of the ECI has come into question several times, with a clear preferential treatment being given to the ruling party and its allies when they violate the MCC with impunity.

We have information from valid and reliable sources that efforts are being made by the Ruling Party to manipulate the counting process and the mandate. We know in ensuring free, fair and transparent counting, role of Returning Officers and Observes play the most critical role. We are apprehensive that ruling party may use its power and influence to put pressure on some vulnerable Returning Officers and Observers to commit an electoral crime.

As members of the Civil Service, you have taken this solemn oath: “I do swear/solemnly affirm that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to India and to the Constitution of India by law established, that I will uphold the sovereignty and integrity of India and that I will carry out the duties of my office loyally, honestly and with impartiality.” As you all know ‘free and fair election’ is the essence of democracy and is a basic structure of the constitution. Therefore, conducting such elections is the greatest litmus test of a Civil Servant in upholding this oath.

As per Civil Service Rules every member of the Service shall commit himself to and uphold the supremacy of the Constitution and democratic values; defend and uphold the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of State, public order, decency and morality and maintain integrity in public service.

We have not even an iota of doubt about your honesty, integrity and abiding allegiance to the Constitution of India, and this nation depends on it. This is just to remind you that the powers granted to you by “We, the People” through the Constitution and laws are for protecting, preserving and upholding the people’s vote and mandate through free and fair elections. Hence you are duty bound to follow every tenet of the Law, Rule and Constitution on the above matters without deviation or bias of any form.

Now therefore “We, The People of India,” as Citizens of a Sovereign, Socialist, Secular, Democratic Republic hereby urge you do the following in the next few days in the interest of Free and Fair election, which is the cornerstone of India’s democracy:

  1. Ensure that every candidate has the copy of Form 17C which is the record of votes polled in every booth. Every presiding officer is mandated to do this immediately after polling but this did not happen in many cases due to several reasons. And this mandate applies to the Returning Officers to whom presiding offices have submitted the Forms.
  2. Ensure issuance of Form-B comprising of votes polled and percentages that tallies with the data from Form 17C.
  3. Ensure that on the counting day all the forms are tallied and matched with the data available with the Returning Officer before the counting starts.
  4. Ensure that what is counted booth-wise on the EVM matches with the actual numbers recorded in Form 17C
  5. Ensure that postal ballots are counted strictly as per the instructions of ECI before the commencement of EVM count in the presence of the candidates.
  6. Ensure that the entire counting process is genuinely videographed and recorded.
  7. Ensure that strong rooms are guarded with utmost integrity and special protection be given to Symbol Loading Units as per the orders of the Supreme Court.
  8. Ensure that counting is neither hustled nor hurried without proper verification and cross-verification because verifiability is the core of ‘democracy principles’ without which there will be no public trust in elections.

Please also ensure that there is no spread of communal poison, gross violation of MCC, voter suppression and EVM malfunctioning/fraud as has been widely reported in the earlier phases.

With the gathering’s best wishes,

Organising Committee
High level Consultative Conclave

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