With politicians, who contested the February 15 assembly poll, getting busy in calculating their poll expenditure for submitting before the election commission, experts on Tuesday warned that the candidates might not reveal the actual amount spent.
The Election Commission of India has made it mandatory for every candidate to submit a “true account of his election expenses” with the district election officer within 30 days from the date of declaration of the poll result.
Sources said many candidates were eyeing to show “nominal” expenses, including those on public meetings, campaigning materials, advertisements, campaign workers, vehicles among others. This time, the limit of expenditure for candidates in Uttarakhand was ₹28 lakh as against ₹11 lakh in the 2012 polls.
“The idea (behind under-reporting expenses) is to present their expenses at an ideal level… even though many candidates have spent well above the prescribed ceiling,” a lawyer, consulted by some politicians, told HT on condition of anonymity.
According to an analysis by the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) and National Election Watch (NEW), the extent of expenses by newly elected MLAs of Uttarakhand after the 2012 polls was just 59% -- way below the overall expense limit of ₹11 lakh. The average election expenses in Uttarakhand (as declared by the 43 MLAs analysed) was just ₹6.49 lakh per MLA.
With 67%, the Congress had then led the party-wise average election expenses by MLAs, followed by the BJP (50%), Independents (55%) and Uttarakhand Kranti Dal (46%). At least 8 MLAs had declared “zero election expenses” on campaigning done through electronic or print media.
Experts feared that election expenditure details submitted by the candidates may never be the “actual amount”.
“Those candidates who have overspent will never report their expenses correctly. I think there are serious violations (in reporting poll expenses by candidates) that will never come to light. The election machinery is certainly making efforts, but the problem is too complex and too deeply buried to be taken at face value,” said Ravi Chopra, an activist and former Uttarakhand coordinator of ADR-NEW.
Also, the extent of “black money” pumped into the election may never be traced and accounted for, further leaving a scope of under-reporting in overall poll expenses, he said.
More than 1 lakh litres of liquor and over ₹3 crore cash -- considered probable enticements for voters -- were seized in Uttarakhand by authorities in the run up to the February 15 polls.
Radha Raturi, the chief electoral officer of Uttarakhand, said the election authorities kept a close eye on poll expenses of candidates by capturing and analyzing video footage of their campaigning activities minutely and tabulating estimate of expenses by them as per the rates fixed by the election commission.
“Candidates’ expenses will be matched with the registers maintained by the officials,” she said.
Congress state unit chief Kishore Upadhyay, who contested from Sahaspur constituency, said: “We (Congress candidates) will follow the norms laid down by the EC in documenting our election expenses…if some candidates are doing it (under reporting expenses), then (the trend) should not be generalised for all.”
Echoing similar sentiments, BJP state unit chief Ajay Bhatt, who contested from Ranikhet, said, “We are committed to abide by the EC guidelines and will submit actual poll expenses.”
Uttarakhand witnessed 65.64% polling across 69 assembly constituencies. Voting in Karnaprayag was postponed to March 9 following the death of a candidate. Votes will be counted on March 11.