Almost 150 Income Tax and other enforcement officials designated as election expenditure observers for the State

With the Election Commission taking extensive steps to check misuse of money during polls in Bihar, top politicians and candidates are now voluntarily appearing before expenditure observers deputed at airports and other places to declare their cash.

The Election Commission has recently activated an Election Expenditure Monitoring (EEM) cell at its headquarters in Delhi to curb the use of illegal money. With a senior IRS officer at the helm, almost 150 Income Tax and other enforcement officials have been designated as election expenditure observers for Bihar.

Sources said that a number of politicians, candidates and political party workers voluntarily come to these observers deputed at places like the Patna airport and other locations across the State and ask the officials to check their baggage for any cash and themselves declare in case they are carrying a huge amount of money.

Leaders say that the effect of the new initiative is visible in the State but it will take a slew of additional measures to prevent misuse of money in the electoral process.

“A lot more care is now being taken (with the new steps taken by EC to curb money misuse). I have seen them working and taking preventive steps to curb the misuse of money...they have sanitised the airport etc. Some visible measures are there. But more efforts are needed,” CPI (M) politburo member Sitaram Yechury told PTI.

According to EC guidelines, a candidate can spend a maximum of Rs 10 lakh for Assembly polls and Rs 25 lakh for Parliamentary polls in Bihar.

Officials say that they have intercepted a number of political and non-political individuals while they were carrying huge amounts of cash and a separate report is being made for each incident. After the six-phase polls conclude in the State, these reports will be handed over to the Chief Election Officer of Bihar who will subsequently submit it to the Election Commission.

The I-T sleuths, as apart of a new Air Intelligence Unit (AIU) created at Patna airport at the behest of the EC, had some days ago intercepted and questioned a Congress MP while he was carrying Rs 12.5 lakh to Delhi.

He was later allowed to board the flight with the money as he said it was ‘party fund' which is exempted under the provisions of the I-T Act.

“The entire scenario of the amount of money used during the Bihar polls will be understood only after the elections are over. All the parties will have to come together and plan strategies to curb the misuse of money in the electoral process,” Janata Dal (United) spokesperson Shivanand Tiwari said.

But while the misuse of money should be curbed, the EC should allow the elections to have their colour and interest by way of banners and buntings being put up by candidates in the poll fray, he said.

The Bihar Assembly polls are the first assignment for the new cell in the EC which has recently brought out guidelines like the creation of “shadow” expenditure register and exclusive election bank accounts by the candidates trying their luck in the electoral battle. -- PTI