Even though it sounds cliche, drawing a connection between elections and black money is a time-tested truth.
The 2019 Lok Sabha election in India is historic not merely because of its scale (it is the largest democratic election in the history of the globe), but also because of the amount and value of cash, drugs, alcohol, and freebies that vigilance authorities were able to confiscate during these elections.
Cash, drugs, alcohol, precious metals (gold, silver, etc.), freebies, and other items totaling Rs Rs 3,456.22 crore were confiscated in India as of May 20. This sum is around 90% of what the government reported officially spending on the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), a significant political organisation in Tamil Nadu, was reportedly one of the owners of the warehouse where bundles of banknotes worth Rs 10.48 crore were discovered by the Income Tax Department.
The after effects of seizing this black money:
These seizures occurred as a result of politicians possessing, distributing, and transporting illegal cash, drugs, alcohol, gold, and silver goods, as well as a variety of freebies and presents intended to sway voters in their favour. The Representation of Peoples Act outlaws certain actions.
When teams from the EC are sent out to intercept huge sums of money, they frequently struggle to discover sufficient proof that the money is related to the elections.
A court then hears the matter, and if it decides that the money was not intended for bribery of voters or other election-related uses, it returns it to the owner.
A number of teams, including flying squads, static surveillance teams, video surveillance teams, etc., are deployed under each election expenditure observer to keep track of the costs in each constituency.
According to the notice issued by the election commission on 29 May 2015, the flying squad has the duty to:
attend to all model code of conduct violations and related complaints;
attend to all complaints of threat, intimidation, movement of antisocial elements, liquor, arms and ammunition and large sum of cash for the purpose of bribing of electors;
attend to all complaints regarding election expenditure incurred or authorised by the candidates/political party;
video graph, with the assistance of a video surveillance team, of any big rallies, public meetings, or other major expenditures made by political parties following the commission’s release of election results.
When a report is received about the distribution of cash, liquor, or any other form of bribe, or the movement of antisocial elements or weaponry and ammunition, the FS must respond swiftly. Cash, bribe-related items, and other such items must be seized by the in charge police officer of FS in cases where there is a suspicion of a crime being committed. The officer must also collect evidence, record witness statements, and issue a proper Panchnama for seizure to the person from whom the items were taken, in accordance with the provisions of the CrPC. He is responsible for making sure the matter is filed in a court with appropriate jurisdiction within 24 hours. The FS magistrate will watch over correct protocol and make sure there are no issues with law and order.
It may take three or more dedicated flying squads or static surveillance teams, depending on how sensitive a constituency’s spending is, to monitor shady cash transactions, the distribution of alcohol, or the movement of other commodities that might be used to bribe voters.
A senior executive magistrate, a senior police officer, a videographer, and a few armed individuals make up each team. The static surveillance teams are stationed at specific sites around the constituency, as opposed to the flying squads, which are mobile and arrive at the scene after receiving a complaint. The crews begin working on the day the election results are announced and keep going until the polls are all closed. The police have the authority to seize any illegally obtained money or other materials, such as alcohol, that might be used to bribe voters. Any money or other items seized are either returned or given to district treasuries.
Accepting money to vote or not vote for a candidate is punishable by prison time, penalties, or both.
According to Forum Secretary M. Padmanabha Reddy, there are currently no standardised processes in place to handle situations in which money is given to voters during elections.
Only five of the 94 cases resulted in the filing of a FIR; in the remaining 89, no case was opened, and the money was returned to the individual from whom it had been taken. Out of the five cases, only two were filed under the Gaming Act; the remaining three were filed only under Section 171 E (penalty for bribery), with a total value of 18 lakh rupees.
A committee shall be constituted to avoid inconvenience to the public and legitimate persons, as well as to address any issues they may have. The committee shall examine each case of seizure made by the police, SST, or FS on its own initiative, and where the committee finds that no FIR/complaint has been filed against the seizure or where the seizure is not linked to any candidate, political party, or election campaign, etc., the committee shall take immediate steps to order the release of such cash etc. to such persons from the home where the cash was seized after passing a speaking order to that effect.
To ensure the integrity of elections, the Indian Election Commission issued the Standard Operating Procedure, which states that information pertaining to the search and seizure of cash, liquor, narcotic items, precious metals, and all other types of prohibited items and freebies should be compiled and maintained by State CEOs/ECI.
The Supreme Court in the matter of State of Karnataka vs. Prathik Parasrampuria, has taken note of this very important and critical issue. The SLP was filed by the Karnataka government against Karnataka High Court’s order that had quashed a criminal case against accused named Prathik Parasrampuria from whom over Rs 20 lakh was recovered during the search and seizure procedure in the 2014 Lok Sabha byelection in Bellary constituency.
However, there is no clarity regarding the outcome of such cases, as well as the cash and other forbidden things recovered following each raid. This is, indeed, a blatant exhibition of black money. Despite the Election Commission’s SOP/guidelines on search and seizure in place, numerous court orders:
one being of the Madras High Court, which directed the ECI to widely publish in the language known to the people of the State about the above provisions of search and seizure and MCC in force,
According to the Supreme Court decision in Election Commission vs. Bhagyoday Jan Parishad and Ors., a candidate, his/her agent, or followers are forbidden from carrying cash in excess of Rs 50,000 in the constituency during the election process. Various central agencies such as ECI, CBDT, I.T dept, and others have done nothing substantial.
Following seizure, the confiscated amount must be deposited in the way specified by the Court, and a copy of the seizure of cash in excess of Rs. 10 lacs must be given to the Income Tax authorities, which has been retained for the purpose. If necessary, the DEO shall provide instructions to the treasury units to receive the seized cash outside office hours and on holidays.
Author: Nayeisha Puri
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