The Election Commission has drawn up an exhaustive plan of action to tackle the problem of money power in the coming Assembly elections in four States and the Union Territory of Puducherry.
Director-General (Election Expenditure) of the Commission P.K. Dash told a conference on electoral and political reforms here on Saturday that a few days ago the Commission issued elaborate guidelines on expenditure monitoring.
There were two broad components — preventive and punitive measures. As part of preventive measures, advertisements in the press would be issued to educate voters of their rights and responsibilities, besides highlighting ethical voting. Meetings with non-governmental organisations and citizens' forums and appeal to political parties and candidates for self-restraint would form part of the preventive measures.
For implementing the punitive measures, “we have put a robust mechanism in place,” said Mr. Dash, who joined the Commission four months ago.
Taking into account the history and profile of constituencies and other developments, Chief Electoral Officers of the States would identify those constituencies which were prone to high expenditure and corrupt practices. Such constituencies would be termed “Expenditure-Sensitive.” In the case of these onstituencies, a large number of Assistant Expenditure Observers and more number of flying squads and surveillance teams would be posted.
For each district, the Commission would appoint an Expenditure Observer, who would be drawn from the Indian Revenue Service or Indian Customs and Central Excise Service. There would also be Assistant Expenditure Observers, who would belong to the Income Tax, Customs and other accounting departments of the Union government.
Each candidate would be required to open a separate bank account for election expenditure. The candidate should deposit the entire amount meant for election expenses received from any source, including his or her own, in the bank account. “All the election expenses are to be incurred by issuing cheques,” Mr. Dash said, adding political parties would be advised not to transact in cash during the election process.
He clarified that only in respect of those cases where it was not possible to issue cheques, the amount could be withdrawn in cash.
Banks would be required to report to the Commission any “suspicious withdrawal of money” exceeding Rs. 1 lakh . “We will monitor such withdrawals [to ascertain] whether there is any link to election-related expenditure.”
“We are going to set up a 24X7 call centre and complaint monitoring mechanism wherein each complaint will be registered and action taken immediately,” he said.
Static surveillance teams
Flying squads under each police station would attend to the complaints. There would be static surveillance teams to keep a watch on large quantities of cash or illicit liquor or any suspicious item being carried in the constituencies.
Mr. Dash hinted that the teams might cause a little inconvenience to the public but “there is no other way” to counter the problem.
The teams and flying squads would operate under the Superintendents of Police who, in turn, would be observed by Inspector-Generals co-opted from other States.
Describing the media as a partner and stakeholder in elections, he, however, termed the phenomenon of paid news business. To address this, district-level Media Certification and Monitoring Committees would go into the entire process of media advertisements. In the case of paid news, the expenditure would be calculated at the rates of Directorate of Audio Visual and Publicity (DAVP) and this would be referred to the Press Council of India for action.
Presiding over the inauguration of the conference, Chief Election Commissioner S.Y. Quraishi said the Commission had recommended to the Union government that the ceiling on election expenditure of candidates be raised.
Pointing out that the present ceiling was fixed in 1996, he said the Commission had proposed to enhance the existing ceiling for a Lok Sabha candidate from Rs. 25 lakh to Rs. 40 lakh and for a contestant in Assembly elections, from Rs. 10 lakh to Rs. 16 lakh.