The Hindu

Election Commission to seize cash beyond Rs. 2.5 lakh, if unaccounted for

Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), a non-political organisation, and Gujarat Election Watch (GEW), a chapter of National Election Watch, have endorsed the Election Commission of India’s monitoring measures taken to counter the indiscriminate use of money power in elections.

Although legitimate business transactions based on cash should not suffer, the ECI’s efforts to check the unaccounted cash should be appreciated and supported, said Bhaskar Assoldekar in a press release issued here on Friday on behalf of ADR and NEW.

The ADR and the GEW, who are monitoring the Gujarat election process, were responding to a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed recently in the Gujarat High Court by the business community in Gujarat, seeking “restraint and moderation” of the Election Commission’s order that ruled the seizure of cash beyond Rs. 2.5 lakh in transit unless the money had been appropriately accounted for.

“ADR reiterates that legitimate business transactions based on cash should not suffer, but supports the ECI’s measure to seize unaccounted for cash,” said the press release.

The ADR said that just when media reports were replete with 15 cases of unaccounted cash seizures of more than Rs. 11 crore by the Election Commission in past one week, a PIL had been filed in Gujarat High Court asking for a restraint order on Election Commission’s power to confiscate unaccounted cash.

“We consider this as a critically important instrument in the ECI’s Election Expenditure Monitoring Mechanism that aims to tackle head-on the alarmingly increasing menace of money power in elections,” said the press release.

It said that ever since the model code of conduct came into effect in Gujarat, there were news reports that the EC’s Static Surveillance Team (SST) in Gujarat have seized more than Rs.10 crore of unaccounted cash in three cases alone — Rs. 9.3 crore in a van in Mehsana; Rs. 5 lakh in Sabarkantha; and Rs.70 lakh from Vijaypur taluka on Himmatnagar-Mehsana Road. Earlier, in 12 cases SST intercepted cash of Rs.1.43 crore out of which Rs.1.41 crore was returned as it was accounted legal money.

It noted that the efficacy of the cash seizure methods had been proved in several elections in last two years, since the time the ECI has started implementing these expense monitoring measures in the elections. There had been record cases of cash seizures across almost all states during elections. The news reports of cash seizures by the ECI in Andhra Pradesh by-polls earlier this year stands at more than Rs. 41 crore. The corresponding figures for Tamil Nadu assembly elections in 2011 and UP assembly elections 2012 were Rs. 60 crore and Rs. 30 crore, respectively.

In 2009 Lok Sabha elections, the Election Commission confiscated more than Rs. 100 crore. These were astronomical sums of money and by most estimates just the tip of the amount that actually was in circulation during elections, major fraction of which was black money procured through illegal hawala transactions, said the organization spearheading the cause of democratic and electoral reforms in the country.

This huge amount of money spent in elections required a very wide web of monitoring mechanism and this ECI’s order of not allowing people to travel with more than Rs.2.5 lakh was an extremely appropriate step.

“Specifically with respect to the present Gujarat Assembly elections that are to be held in December coinciding with the festive season, not much should be left to imagination if we consider how this atmosphere can be exploited by candidates if certain strategic and effective steps are not taken to monitor and check the election expenses,” the ADR said.

It recalled that a case of similar nature came up before the Madras High Court during the Tamil Nadu assembly elections of 2011 when the court took the suo moto cognizance of various newspaper reports in which some political party leaders had complained about similar restrictions imposed by the EC. The court had declined to curb the powers of the ECI to prevent distribution of money to voters and also directed that the standard procedures for dealing with unaccounted cash and other valuables be followed.



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