Tamil Nadu

Rs. 150 crore, 2 lakh dhotis: why EC pulled the plug on polls in 2 TN constituencies

The ECI took the decision following reports of large scale distribution of money and gifts to voters by the candidates and political parties.  

For the first time in the electoral history of India, the Election Commission has decided to rescind the notification and conduct fresh elections in two Assembly constituencies of Tamil Nadu, following reports of large scale distribution of money and gifts to voters by the candidates and political parties.

Revised schedule for these constituencies will be recommended by the ECI in due course of time.

What made the EC take the step?

On April 22, the Income Tax Department conducted a search at the residence of one C.P. Ambunathan in Aravakurichi, during which Rs. 4.77 crore in cash was seized along with documents showing possible links to some prominent Ministers of the Tamil Nadu government and belonging to the AIADMK. Mr. Ambunathan is engaged in money lending business and also running a school at Coimbatore. He is also a member of the AIADMK, according to the 29-page Commission Order on Saturday.

Also, 200 sarees and dhotis were seized. There was also evidence to suggest that sarees and dhotis worth Rs.1.30 crore had been purchased. A larger number of currency counting machines were also seized along with some unregistered ambulance vehicles, suspected to be used for transporting cash.

On May 10, six days before the scheduled elections, the Income Tax Department conducted another search at the residence of K.C. Palanisamy, a DMK candidate in Aravakurichi Assembly constituency, and his businessman son K.C.P. Sivaraman at Karur and Chennai. The total cash seized amounted to Rs. 1.98 crore, of which Rs. 95 lakh was seized from the house of the candidate. The Department videographed both the searches and seizures and seven FIRs were registered in Aravakurichi.

In one case, it was alleged that a person was distributing money to some people in the constituency and when the officials reached the spot, the suspect fled the scene abandoning Rs. 68,000. Also, 429 litres of liquor was seized and 33 complaints of money distribution registered with the Grievance Redress portal.

The Commission, in its previous order on May 14, held that the illegal inducement of electors by distribution of money and other gifts not only amounted to corrupt practices, but also undermined the conduct of fair elections.

Expenditure Observer’s report

The Commission considered the report received from the Expenditure Observer, wherein he elaborated on seizure of cash in a lodge along with documents linking distribution of cash to the electors of Thanjavur. On May 13, based on a tip off, a flying squad raided one Muthu Lodge and seized Rs. 5 lakh from the terrace of the building. Four hand-written notes, three comprising details of wards with areas and names of few people and the fourth carrying a figure of Rs. 35 lakh, were also seized.

After registration of an FIR, the area Superintendent of Police was asked to identify the persons “Saravanan” and “Manohar” mentioned in the notes. “Saravanan was found to be the lodge owner’s son,” said an EC official.

The ECI order states that further searches in the lodge led to seizure of Rs. 15 lakh from one of the rooms of the lodge.

In another case on May 14, searches in a car led to seizure of AIDMK campaign material. Besides, a bunch of photocopies of handwritten notes was found. “These pages give the details of ward-wise distribution of money at the rate Rs. 500 per vote. This is account of 13 wards and the total of distributed money comes to Rs. 1.4 crore. An FIR was lodged against the person found in the car.”

The ECI order says seizures indicate that despite efforts by the election observation machinery, more than Rs. 6 crore was distributed by one single candidate in the constituency. According to the Commission, the Thanjavur team elaborated on the complaints and progress of investigation on earlier cash seizures. It reported detailing the seizure of Rs. 25.48 lakh in Thanjavur in three cases, including one involving Saravanan, vice president of the student federation of AIADMK. He was arrested and released on bail as the offence is a bailable offence.

Sound financial capacity of the candidates

In its order on Saturday, the Commission noted findings of three observers that some candidates in the fray for Aravakurichi constituencies are financially well-off due to their forays in business. “During interaction with a wide spectrum of people, including media, respectable citizens, government employees and others, it was brought to the notice of all three observers that money distribution has played a major role in vitiating the election process in Aravakurichi.”

“Although specific information on record could not be obtained, it has been informed to all three of us that money to the extent of Rs. 2,000 to 5,000 per voter was distributed by the two major political parties in Aravakurichi. The Rs. 8.3 crore that has been recovered during the election process is only the tip of the iceberg,” said the observers’ report.

“In one instance, for a voter who is presently abroad, parties had left the due share of money at the residence of his parents even though the parents refused to accept the bribe,” states the order.

The special observers from Aravakurichi constituency reported 112 complaints, mostly linked to money, liquor and freebies distribution. According to them, an estimated Rs. 59.4 crore had been distributed by the AIADMK candidate and Rs. 39.6 crore by the DMK candidate. “Even before the seizure, the DMK candidate had distributed 1 lakh dhotis and sarees with black and red DMK flag colour. AIADMK candidate had also distributed 1 lakh dhotis and ‘auspicious green colour saree’ to the voters.”

Apart from this, AIADMK candidates had gifted from Rs. 5 lakh to Rs. 50 lakh per village and small and big residential localities for renovation of temples and to build “mandapams” for each temple. About Rs. 150 crore had already reached the voters, notes the order.

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Printable version | Jan 17, 2021 3:25:16 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/Rs.-150-crore-2-lakh-dhotis-why-EC-pulled-the-plug-on-polls-in-2-TN-constituencies/article14344249.ece

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