Even as officials on election duty, in association with Income Tax Department officials, seized Rs. 2 crore in unaccounted cash well before the December 13, 17 Gujarat Assembly elections, the Election Commission (EC) has expressed its inability to stop the ongoing search and seizure operations: “It is the Commission’s duty to ensure that proper law and order is maintained for free and fair polls and that money power does not affect the operation of democracy.”

Reacting to the huge number of petitions received from several persons and organisations from Gujarat, including diamond/sari traders and political parties, a senior official of the EC said: “We are well within the law and our efforts definitely yield results by curbing distribution of money and gifts to voters. It should be noted that though income tax rules bar cash transactions above Rs. 20,000, the Commission has kept a higher ceiling on carrying cash up to Rs. 2.5 lakh legally/with proper documents. We have ample powers under the Constitution, the Criminal Procedure Code and the Income Tax Act to order a search and seizure of vehicles and houses to prevent distribution of money in the run-up to the polls.”

The official referred to a Madras High Court order issued in April last year prior to the Tamil Nadu Assembly elections when a petition was filed challenging the EC’s move to intensify vehicle/house checks to seize unaccounted cash. The court had said: “It is a well settled law that the duty of the EC is to prevent distribution of money to the public and it should take all steps to curb those activities. If EC is directed to arrive at a subjective satisfaction and record reasons before the search and seizure, then the very purpose of search and seizure will be frustrated and it will amount to curbing the powers of EC conferred by the Constitution and the Representation of the People Act.”

Some Gujarat traders have moved the High Court, seeking a direction to the EC to order suspension of such seizures.