Specifically with respect to the present Gujarat Assembly Elections that are to be held in Dec 2012, the elections fall in festive season and 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 ASSOCIATION for Democratic Reforms (ADR), a citizen led non-political and non-partisan NGO, along with Gujarat Election Watch(GEW) a chapter of National Election Watch (NEW), which is a campaign of more than 1200 organizations across India, have been working in the area of the electoral and political reforms for more than a decade now. ADR and GEW have also been actively involved in election watch in the state of Gujarat for the upcoming elections.
ADR and GEW have given this reaction to a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed recently in the Gujarat High Court. The PIL has been filed by the business community in Gujarat, seeking “restraint and moderation” of the Election Commission’s order that rules the seizure of cash beyond Rs. 2.5 lakh in transit unless the money has 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.
ADR and NEW unequivocally support this ECI’s order that directs citizens to not to travel with more than Rs 2.5 lakh in 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.
Ever since the model code of conduct came into application, there are news reports that EC's Static Surveillance Team (SST) in Gujarat have already seized more than Rs 10 crore of unaccounted cash in three cases alone viz Rs 9.30 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.
The efficacy of the cash seizure methods has been proved in several elections in last two years, since the time ECI has started implementing these expense monitoring measures in the elections. There have been record cases of cash seizures across almost all states during elections. The news reports of cash seizures by ECI in Andhra 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 are Rs 60 crore and 30 crore, respectively.
In 2009 Lok Sabha elections, more than Rs 100 crore was confiscated by ECI. These are astronomical sums of money and by most estimates just the tip of the amount that actually is in circulation during elections major fraction of which is black money procured through illegal hawala transactions.
This huge amount of money spent in elections requires a very wide-spread web of monitoring mechanism and this ECI’s order of not allowing people to travel with more than Rs. 2.5 lakh is an extremely correct step in the right direction. Specifically with respect to the present Gujarat Assembly Elections that are to be held in Dec 2012, the elections fall in festive season and 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.
A case of similar nature also came up before Madras High Court during the Tamil Nadu assembly elections of 2011 when the court took the suo motu cognizance of various newspaper reports in which some political party leads had complained about various similar restrictions imposed by EC. The court had declined to curb the powers of 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.
Even the white paper of the UPA govt has also recommended in para 6.13 that existing laws should be amended to regulate the possession and transportation of cash. The paper also prescribes putting a limitation on cash holding for private use and confiscation of cash held beyond prescribed limits.
ADR and GEW also appeal to all political parties that they ask their candidates to keep their expenses in limit, so that the elections take place in a free and fair manner and the influence of money power is reduced in the elections.