Tamil Nadu

EC is working closely with enforcement agencies: Sahoo

EC norms: The counter affidavit was filed in response to a case filed by DMK principal secretary K.N. Nehru.  

Chief Electoral Officer Satyabrata Sahoo in an interview with The Hindu on Friday assures that all steps are in place to ensure an inducement-free election in Tamil Nadu, which has earned notoriety for voter bribery. Edited excerpts

Chief Election Commissioner described Tamil Nadu as an “expenditure-sensitive State”. What measures are you taking to ensure the conduct of a fair and free Assembly election?

The entire election machinery has been advised to remain careful. After the model code of conduct came into force, flying surveillance teams (FSTs) and static surveillance teams (SSTs) have been deployed and they are on the job. The Income-Tax Department, Customs and Excise, the Airports Authority and banks, among others, have been informed about the standard operating procedure framed in this regard. We have made everyone an informer through the cVIGIL app. Anyone can take a picture or video of freebies or cash being distributed. Accordingly, we can activate our FSTs and SSTs to take immediate action.

What surveillance system is in place to trace and seize freebies and cash meant to be distributed to voters? Do you have informers on the ground?

We have made everybody an informer through the cVIGIL App. Through this app, anyone can take a picture or video of any distribution of freebie or cash. It will be time and date stamped so that we will know on which date and where the incident took place. Accordingly, we can activate our zonal teams i.e. FSTs and SSTs to immediately take action against those responsible. If needed, the IT Department would be alerted. We have done this on a seamless basis.

Have any lessons from past elections come in handy to deal with the widespread culture of voter bribery in Tamil Nadu?

We are working closely in coordination with all enforcement agencies. We are having regular meetings and exchanging information with each other so that it can happen seamlessly. Over the years, we have streamlined the coordination with regular and immediate reporting. We can develop on this experience gained earlier.

How will the deputation of two special expenditure observers help this time?

These two Special Expenditure Observers have been working in the Income Tax Department for a very long time before their retirement. One of them was also deputed during the 2019 elections and she had extensively toured the state and interacted with other Expenditure Observers. If the money seized is more than ₹10 lakh, the case goes to the IT Department. So, they will be able to have a robust surveillance system because they have the necessary intelligence apparatus also about the movement. Because of their rich experience, they will be able to guide the Commission better in this regard.

How many booths have been identified as sensitive in Tamil Nadu? What additional measures are in place there?

Approximately, about 7,000 polling booths are considered sensitive but the figures may go up or come down based on the candidates that are finalised for the constituencies. Besides, the observers would be there and they will also be giving their feedback through their reports on whether the numbers have to be increased.

Is there a way other than rescinding polls when widespread bribing is detected? Can’t the erring candidate be debarred instead of calling off elections and inconveniencing other candidates?

The Election Commission has certain parameters and rules and Acts within which it has to work on and accordingly it takes a decision. As for your question on whether a candidate can be debarred from contesting due to charges of bribery, we have to see whether the existing rules permit. So, based on that, the ECI takes a decision. The ECI is very much aware of these facts and whenever it was rescinded, you might know that the scale was very much high. So, the ECI has taken a decision after keeping everything into account.

What are the steps being taken for ensuring a higher polling percentage, especially in urban constituencies?

We have asked our DEOs to look into specific polling booths that have registered low polling percentages in the past. They have analysed such polling booths and gone through the electoral roll to check whether the voters are there. From the very registration of voters, we have launched a strong SVEEP campaign. Also through social media and advertisements, we have been requesting people to participate in this democratic process. We are hopeful that the polling percentage will definitely be more.

How will you tackle the challenge of COVID-19 in election work and in polling stations?

The Election Commission has thoughtfully given directions to the CEOs, the DEOs and the right up to the polling stations on what kind of arrangements are to be taken on the day of polling. The instructions are that we have to follow the norms of the Health Department as far the physical distancing, use of masks and sanitising hands. On the day of polling, the Commission has directed all election officials and police officers have to be provided a sufficient number of masks and sanitisers. The ECI has written to the Health Department that all election staff will be given vaccination on a priority basis. Advisories have also been issued on how meetings are to be held by the political parties. All our DEOs are ensuring that they are implemented.

The Commission has allowed even those with COVID-19 to vote? How will you ensure that the infection is not spread in the polling stations?

The Commission’s oral instruction is that instructions issued by the Health Department have to be followed scrupulously. The Commission has also enabled that people, who have to come to the booths, are not infected or do not infect others. Even for those who are suspected to have a fever or suspected COVID patients, the Commission has also asked us to be ready with PPE kits. They can come during the last one hour, they can use our PPE kit for voting at the polling station.

How will the Commission ensure that postal ballots by those above 80 years of age, differently-abled persons and those with COVID-19 symptoms are not cast under duress?

We must understand that this is an optional facility. So, if somebody who is above 80 years of age and if he/she wishes to opt for postal vote through the 12-D form, will be given a postal ballot. A five-member team will be visiting the house of each and every such postal ballot allottee. So, the voter in the independent presence cast his/her vote, seal it and put it in the box the team will be carrying. That way, we are ensuring that one person is not coerced by anyone and the process is done in a free and fair manner.

In 2019, there were complaints that many eligible voters were not able to vote though their names were in the electoral rolls?

The Commission has scrupulously given guidelines that a person’s name has to be there in the electoral rolls so that he/she would be able to vote. Even now, if their names are not found due to transfer or change of address, they should, even on online mode, enroll themselves. Even in case if someone else cast this person’s vote, there is a tender vote procedure. We have instructed all DEOs to strictly follow all guidelines of the Commission so that such complaints are not made.

How much cash is permissible for the general public to carry? How about other things and gold?

The ECI norm is that they can carry a sum of ₹50,000 in cash. If they are carrying beyond ₹50,000 in cash, they should have valid documents to prove either they have to return it or any other reason so that it can be explained to election authorities as to why that much sum is being carried. It is confiscated only when there are some party symbols or party flags are also there in the vehicle which may mean that may be this is meant for distribution by a party.

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Printable version | Apr 18, 2021 11:47:35 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/elections/tamil-nadu-assembly/ec-is-working-closely-with-enforcement-agencies-sahoo/article33999636.ece

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