By Express News Service

VIJAYAWADA: The Andhra Pradesh High Court on Friday issued interim orders prohibiting the use of eWatch, an app developed by the State Election Commission (SEC), till February 9. At the same time, it allowed the Andhra Pradesh Technology Services Limited (APTS) officials to examine the SEC app.

Hearing a batch of petitions filed challenging the use of eWatch by the SEC, a division bench of the HC comprising Chief Justice Arup Kumar Goswami and Justice C Praveen Kumar, sought to know what problems does the SEC have in using the apps developed by the government or the Election Commission.  The bench further questioned why the SEC has launched the new app though the Model Code of Conduct came into force from January 8, and who will benefit from it. The court opined that the case warrants an in- depth hearing and adjourned it to February 9 as it will take five days for examining the new app by APTS officials. 

Presenting his arguments, advocate S Sarath appearing for the petitioners, said the Election Commission of India has already developed cVigil app to monitor the election process.He wondered as to why the SEC had kept aside the app developed by the ECI, when it can be used for sending photos and videos of any poll code violations such as distribution of cash, liquor etc.He further pointed out that the State government has developed a similar app Nigha and both the apps have cyber security clearance. 

Stating that people are not aware of eWatch developed by the SEC, which was unilaterally decided by the commission, he said they have apprehensions over its security. He argued that without a security audit, launching the app is illegal.

Another advocate VR Reddy Kovvuri, appearing for the petitioners, argued that bringing the new app without security clearance will lead to pilferage of data. He urged the court to direct the SEC to use the apps developed by the ECI or the State government. 

Advocate GR Sudhakar also appearing for the petitioners, argued that the SEC’s unilateral decision to develop and use another mobile app is not in the interest of the people. He argued that if allowed, it will set a wrong precedence. 

Senior advocate Ashwini Kumar, appearing for the SEC, argued that the ECI developed cVigil for the parliamentary elections and it is not feasible for panchayat polls. The ECI encourages SECs to have their own mobile apps and cited a mobile app developed by the UP SEC. He informed the court that the details of the app, discussions with the Centre and ECI will be submitted to the court in a sealed cover. 

However, the bench opined  that there are no secrets in the case that need to be submitted in a sealed cover. When the bench sought to know the details of expenses incurred on development of the app, Ashwini Kumar said he did not have them. The bench questioned the SEC counsel from when the MCC came into force and in the absence of eWatch, which app was used for redressal of poll-related grievances. Ashwini Kumar informed the court that a toll free number was used.  

The court sought to know what difficulty the SEC has in using the apps developed by the ECI and the government. When Ashwini Kumar said the SEC has to act in an impartial manner, the court sought to know what the app has to do with it. Further, it sought to know if the ECI has issued orders to SECs for developing their own apps in writing. 

When the HC asked the details regarding security audit for the app, Government Pleader Chintala Suman said every mobile app should have a security audit certificate, which is mandatory. He submitted to the court that the SEC secretary on Thursday sent the request for the security audit to APTS and it will take a minimum of five days to examine the app for security issues. 

On being asked if the SEC can use the app when it is in the Server Data Centre, Suman said it is not possible and added that only officials of APTS can access the app during that time. Appearing for the ECI, advocate Avinash Desai said the ECI has no role in panchayat elections and all decisions are taken by the SEC on its own.

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