Punjab polls: NRI funds under scanner of enforcement agencies

Sources in the Punjab govt said that the state police as well as the income-tax authorities are keeping a close eye on foreign funds.

New Delhi: With Punjab heading for one of the most keenly contested triangular Assembly elections, the state’s most economically prosperous region — Doaba — is under the scanner of security and enforcement agencies. The region’s nearly 85 per cent of income is generated from its sizeable NRI population,

The money routed through NRIs has been a major source of funding in Punjab’s electoral process, and with political parties already facing cash crunch in wake of demonetisation, it is suspected that the contribution of NRIs towards funding in the polls is likely to witness a sharp increase.

It is learnt that every second household in the Doaba region, including Jalandhar, Kapurthala, Kartarpur, Nawashahar, Phagwara and Mandi Gobindgarh, has a member working abroad.

During the election, majority of these NRIs return to Punjab not just for voting but also to generate funds for political parties. Doaba also happens to be the most important region in Punjab, where majority of the foreign funds are routed through the hawala network.

As compared to Punjab’s other two regions — Malwa and Majha — Doaba is also the most prosperous in terms of both revenue generation and foreign exchange.

Sources in the Punjab government said that the state police as well as the income-tax authorities are keeping a close eye on foreign funds flowing into the Doaba.

“Initially, a sizeable population from the region was working in the US, Canada, Europe and Australia, but in recent years a lot of workforce has started going to the Middle East. The money sent back home is one of the reasons why Doaba is economically the most prosperous area of Punjab.

And funding during election is also the largest here. “Following demonetisation, parties are in desperate need of more money, so expect a lot of money to come in through hawala channels,” said Kewal Kishan, former economics professor at Jalandhar’s Doaba College.

Political observers feel that though three political parties in the fray — Akali Dal-BJP combine, Congress and Aam Aadmi Party — will benefit from NRI funds, AAP is attracting a lot of foreign volunteers, particularly the youth.

A senior Punjab police official said they are already keeping a close watch on money coming into the region and additional forces have been deployed with special focus on airports at Amritsar, Mohali and Ludhiana, and a close watch is also being kept at smaller airports at Bhatinda and Patiala to check passengers carrying unaccounted cash.

The Central Industrial Security Force has also been roped in. “This particular issue was also discussed in detail when Chief Election Commissioner Nasim Zaidi chaired a review meeting in Chandigarh last week to review poll preparedness,” the official added.

( Source : Deccan Chronicle. )
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