Ex-bankers, retired government officials and journalists have been roped in by the Election Commission to hold ‘charcha’ or dialogue sessions with voters as part of its drive to crack down on black money instances in “expenditure-sensitive” pockets.
For the first time, the EC has directed the Chief Electoral Officers of all states and Union Territories to create Village Level Awareness Groups (VAGs) and Ward Level Awareness Groups (WAGs) in all municipal areas of a district, especially in those constituencies which are sensitive from the point of view of illegal money power coming into play in the run up to the polls.
Such groups, comprising retired government officials, bank officers, corporates, eminent journalists and educationists and civil society representatives of the area, will be formed at all such marked polling booths and they will indulge in group discussions, chats and talks with the local voters with an aim to urge them to shun electoral malpractices and also report their occurrence.
The group, the EC directive issued accessed by PTI said, will also organise ‘nukkad’ meetings and dialogue sessions against the practice of accepting and doling out cash bribe, liquor or any other inducements during polls.
“These groups will hold talk sessions with local voters and even take out a door-to-door campaign. Talking is doing is the belief behind this initiative,” a senior official involved in the exercise said.
The expenditure sensitive seats are being currently determined by the EC based on “past experiences, the level of development and literacy profile and sensitivity of the area for distribution of cash, liquor or items of bribe.”
The 5-10 member team, according to EC directives, will “spread the message of ethical voting among voters and to abstain from any inducement like cash, gift, liquor or community feat organised for campaign purpose, during election process” and also hold meetings and group discussions with the voters against the evil effects of bribe during elections, which shall also be attended by the local sector officers appointed by the poll panel in view of the election process.
The group will also have the mandate to report “malpractices” noticed in this regard to the EC.
“The group shall not directly take any action against any malpractice and it should only inform the district complaint monitoring centre which has been opened for the purpose,” the EC said charting out the standard operating procedures for these groups.
The EC has asked the CEOs to direct the Returning officers in the expenditure sensitive constituencies to “hand over” all advertisement material prepared on ethical voting to the VAG and WAG members.
The central poll panel has also asked the CEOs to ensure that the identity of these members are kept a secret, keeping in mind their security, when they register a compliant against any electoral malpractice with regard to black money instances.
The CEOs have also been asked to share contact numbers and details of these members to all sort of observers that are deployed in the area for monitoring of poll process.
The EC, keeping in mind the security and safety of these members, has asked the CEOs that their details should also be made available to sector magistrates and senior police officers of the area.
The members of this group, the EC said, should have no political affiliation and will be those who have no blood or family relation with a candidate trying his luck at the hustings.
The VAG and WAG groups will at least have one or two women members.