With a view to curb the negative influence of money power on the poll process as initiated in West Bengal for elections to the 294 assembly constituencies after issuance of the Press Note on March 1st, 2011, it is imperative that we all gear up ourselves to ensure that all the requisite guidelines and instructions as issued by the Election Commission of India (ECI) are complied in letter and spirit. One also hopes that all of you including the Zonal ADMs, SDOs, ROs and concerned officers have all gone through the ECI’s detailed instructions regarding expenditure monitoring. Nevertheless, I am putting some features of these instructions in brief for the benefit of all.
- Section 77 (1) of RPA, 1951:- Every candidate is supposed to maintain a separate account of his/her election expenditure.
- Section 171 (I) of IPC:- Failure to maintain the said account is an offence with penal implications for the candidate.
- Section 123 (6) of RPA, 1951:- Expenditure in excess of the prescribed limit (16 lakh per candidate) is declared to be a corrupt practice.
- Section 78 of RPA, 1951:- Account of expenditure, as incurred by the candidate, is to be filed with the DEO within 30 days of the declaration of poll results.
Now as per the ECI instructions on expenditure monitoring, there are various things which need to be done including formation of the following teams:
Video Surveillance Team (VST): One such team comprising an officer and videographers is to be formed for every AC. To function under the supervision of Assistant Expenditure Observer (AEO), this properly trained team is supposed to shoot all important political events with voiceover of the videographers, capturing all the elements of the events with implications for poll expenses and preparation of a Cue Sheet in Annexure-7.
Video Viewing Team (VVT): One such team comprising an officer and two clerks is to be formed for every AC to view the footage/video as captured by the VST and report the details to Expenditure Observer (EO) and AEO the same day.
Accounting Team (AT): One such team comprising an officer and an assistant with accounting background is to be formed for every AC. This team shall maintain a Shadow Observation Register (SOR) and Folder of Evidence (FOE) for each candidate. All pages of SOR shall be numbered and signed by AEO. SOR is to be available for anyone on payment of Rs. 1/page. The SOR shall be updated as per the feedback/inputs received from VVT and the discrepancies, if any noticed, with the Candidate’s Register is to be notified in writing by RO to the candidate concerned.
Expenditure Monitoring Control Room and Call Centre: Comprising a senior officer and sufficient staff members, this is to be formed at the District Level and shall have an earmarked toll free number and 3/4 hunting telephone lines which shall be widely publicized. All telephonic complaints shall be voice recorded and shall be passed on to concerned RO for action. Information in Annexure-13 is to be maintained here for inspection of EO and General Observer (GO).
Media Certification and Monitoring Committee: Comprising an ADM, DICO, a prominent citizen/a journalist as recommended by Press Council of India, this district level Committee is to keep a tab on all election-related news (paid or otherwise) and advertisements in newspapers, TV and cable networks. It shall be provided with all newspapers, a TV with cable connection, a recording device and a viewing room. It shall keep record and inform the DEO/RO/EO/AEO for necessary action by them.
Flying Squad: Comprising a senior Executive Magistrate, a police officer, a videographers and 3/4 armed policemen and equipped with a vehicle, a mobile phone, a video camera and ‘panchnama’ documents for seizure, this well-trained Squad is to be formed at every sub-division. Details of all Flying Squads to be widely publicized among all concerned including EO/AEO. It shall be expected to track illegal cash, phenomena of voter bribing and any corrupt electoral practice. On receipt of a complaint, it shall reach the spot and do such things as shall be necessary including gather evidence, seize, record statement of witnesses and videographing the entire proceeding. A report in Annexure-8 is to be submitted to RO with a copy to SP/AEO.
Static Surveillance Team: Comprising a police officer and 3/4 policemen, this team is to be formed at every police station and shall be expected to be more mobile than the name suggests. It shall, inter alia, man certain checkpoints in consultation with EO/AEO, keep a watch on the movement of illegal cash, liquor, arms et al. Any action is to be videographed and action is to be taken as per law. A sample letter by DEO in Annexure-10 is to be addressed to the members of public and political parties through media for not carrying huge unaccounted cash after notification.
Expenditure Monitoring Cell: Headed by an ADM conversant with accounting, this Cell shall comprise all the above teams and shall together constitute the EMC. Any and every matter relating to expenditure monitoring shall be reported to be him for information, consultation or guidance.
Apart from the above, the candidate shall also be informed of the following:
- Any candidate or political party making a request for a meeting/rally to the local authority for permission shall also submit a tentative Expenditure Plan failing which the permission shall not be granted.
- Vehicle Permit to be displayed prominently. Duplicate/Xerox of Permit not permissible and vehicle to be seized in case of failure. The permit to be produced even for the two wheelers and shall be produced on demand.
- Penal action shall be taken in case of failure of the candidate to produce the Expenditure Register (Accounts) for inspection by EO.
- Suspicious cash withdrawal above Rs. one lakh from banks is to be monitored.
- Illegal cash in any form is to be monitored/tracked in assistance with Income Tax official deputed for the purpose.
- Separate Bank Account is to be opened by every candidate and all election-related expenses are to be made through that dedicated account only. However, failure on this count shall be no reason for rejection of his/her nomination.
- Expenses for defacement removal from government building are to be recovered from the identified candidates/political parties.
The issues, as mentioned above, are illustrative in nature but account for a major part of expenditure monitoring mechanism as put in place by the ECI. The above instructions are to be implemented in addition to any other instructions or guidelines as have been issued by ECI for the purpose.
Dr. Saumitra Mohan, IAS.