Among the umpteen things that contestants for the Corporation councillors post keep tab of, if there is something that they don't take their eyes off it is the poll expenditure limit. As per the Tamil Nadu State Election Commission rules, the candidates are supposed to spend up to Rs. 33,750.
The limit includes the deposit of Rs. 2,000 they pay at the time of filing nomination. The notary public's signature takes away anywhere between Rs. 500 to Rs. 1,000. This leaves the candidates with around Rs. 30,000.
The amount is unrealistic and not in sync with the escalation in cost of hiring vehicles, audio systems, handbill printing charges, etc., say contestants. Those from the Left parties, who are known not for spending lavishly, only agree.
K. Purushothaman, a councillor of the outgoing Council, says with the money, candidates will be able to print between 3,500 and 4,000 handbills, that too in a colour or two colours, spend on hiring auto rickshaws for a day or two and engage men who will agree only for tea and snacks during the campaign.
Candidates who spend on liquor and food, engage more men and machines will find it difficult to spend within the limit. Such contestants do spend on such things but fudge accounts, as nothing else can be done, he points out.
A candidate of a leading political party, on condition of anonymity, says the 10 people who accompanying him come with a price tag of Rs. 500 a day plus tea, snacks, lunch and liquor. This alone makes his pocket thinner by Rs. 5,000 a day.
He says he is also forced to spend on transport vehicles, auto rickshaws, sound systems, small hoardings, banners, handbills, rooms/office space and the list goes on.
Without such men and machinery, it will be difficult for him to make an “impact” and the people will not know that he is a contestant, the candidate says and adds that he has estimated that at the end of the campaign period he would have spent around Rs. 3 – 4 lakh.
Another councillor of the outgoing Council who is contesting again says he is forced to give money for those in power at local level in his party as they work across the ward. “Today, nobody is willing to work for charity or for ideology. The grease that moves the election machinery is money.”
The Rs. 33,750 limit will only suit Independent candidates like him, says contestant M.S. Velmurugan, who is another councillor of the outgoing Council. He relies on door-to-door campaign with a set of volunteers who expect nothing in return.
He says organised political parties do spend more and that is the ground reality.
P. Rajkumar, another councillor of the outgoing council, says the SEC ought to periodically revise the expenditure limit so that it reflects the reality. If done so, the contestants will not be forced to fudge expenditure.
An election official, who wished not to be named, says the very reason that the limit has been fixed is to curtail the expenditure and prevent candidates from going overboard. The limit has ensured that public is nor disturbed with unnecessary noise, walls are clean and so are roads that have seen very little poll-related litter.
Keywords: civic polls