Chennai: As the countdown for a high stake poll battle for the April 18 Lok Sabha election and 18 by-polls to the Assembly began on Thursday, the Election Commission of India (ECI) has directed its officers in the state to intensify “effective and visible measures” to check abuse of money power over the next two weeks.
After a meeting of high level ECI officers from Delhi including election commissioners Ashok Lavasa and Sushil Chandra, conducted a three-day review of poll preparedness in Tamil Nadu that concluded here today, the EC said that comprehensive monitoring by GPS-enabled squads, static surveillance teams, checking at border check posts, strict vigil on liquor seizures and freebies, besides cash transfers will continue, without causing inconvenience to ordinary citizens.
Significantly, a background note circulated at the end of the officials meeting here shows that the total cash seizure as on April 3, 2019 in the run up to this general election has been Rs 127.84 crore, which is already well above the Rs 113.80 crore total cash seizures in the run-up to the 2016 Assembly elections in Tamil Nadu.
This itself is a good indicator of a high-stake political battle on in Tamil Nadu. The figures, put out by EC though by itself do not indicate whether the cash was part of any attempt to bribe voters, for many of the seizures reported from the districts so far speak of people from various strata of society including individuals and traders mainly carrying cash without “proper documents” since the model code of conduct (MCC) came into force. However, the extent of cash seizures is quite revealing, with another 12 days of substantial campaigning to go by political parties.
Another significant item of seizure has been of precious metals, gold and silver in particular. This has been to the extent of Rs 6.19 crore up to April 3, 2019, as against total seizures of precious metals to the tune of Rs 18.59 crore done during the 2016 Assembly polls, as per the EC figures. Even on Wednesday jewelers of Salem district petitioned the district collector that routine transport of precious metals for making jewellery has been severely hampered due to the MCC in force, hitting their daily trade.
The seizure of freebies and other items, more directly related to voter inducement, has been relatively less this time at Rs.6.19 crore so far, against Rs.18.594 crore under that slot during the 2016 Assembly polls. Nonetheless, the extent of total seizures this time including cheap liquor and narcotics has been of a high order to the tune of Rs 270.15 crore, compared to a mere Rs 140 crore during 2016 Assembly polls.
The EC said, in its joint statement on the assurances and instructions it has given after the meeting with political party representatives, that “it has been given a lot of feedback about abuse of money power.” Already, two expenditure observers per parliamentary constituency have been deployed for strict vigil and in addition a state-level special expenditure observer has been deployed for Tamil Nadu, it said.
The EC asked DCs and police officers to “carefully look into law and order concerns”, ensure speedy execution of NBWs and speedy disposal of electoral offences cases from the last elections. They have also been advised to ensure 100 per cent deposition of arms “unless exempted under specific category.’ So far, during the poll period, 19,655 arms have been deposited, out of a total of 21,925 licensed arms in the State, the EC pointed out. So far, 8,787 anti-social elements have also been rounded up so that the election process is not vitiated.
The EC said that Income Tax officials have been deputed in each and every district for expenditure monitoring. An ‘air intelligence unit’ of I-T authorities have also been set up in all airports in the state.
The EC further said that while polling booths cannot be segregated on “community basis”, special security arrangements will be provided to facilitate proper participation for weaker and vulnerable sections.
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