All the voting takes place in one phase in Tamil Nadu. There is rarely, if ever, any violence, voter intimidation, rigging or bombs thrown around. But there is one vice that grips the state during elections. In other states, liquor may flow freely. In Tamil Nadu, along with liquor, cash also flows. Hundreds if not thousands of crores of rupees are given to voters in a mammoth operation right under the nose of election officials.
The Election Commission comes up with newer and newer ways to curb this practice, but the politicians are always one step ahead. Tokens are given for encashing later. Gifts are distributed. Mobiles are charged. In a particularly egregious case of criminal ingenuity, a decoy is set and bulk cash is slipped across even as election officials are busy counting the cash they caught.
Officers said cash-pushers, acting as detractors, deliberately ‘fall into’ the hands of the squads, virtually keeping the officers glued to the mandatory manual counting of notes. This decoy method allows other cash-filled vehicles to pass by undetected, sources said.
Rules mandate that the officers count every penny as and when a detection is made. “So, even if the person has any documents to show, we have to count and ascertain the amount. If a vehicle is caught with a few lakhs, we keep counting it, giving the other vehicles a slip,” an officer said on condition of anonymity.
A returning officer in the western region said the amount seized so far exceeded all the estimates. Apart from static surveillance teams, three flying squads function in each Assembly constituency, thus making 18 teams in each Lok Sabha constituency. “However, a couple of days ago, due to the huge seizures, the teams were increased from three to nine in each assembly constituency. This means there are 54 flying squads in each Lok Sabha constituency now,” the returning officer said.
According to the guidelines on seizure of cash, a star campaigner can carry ₹1lakh for his own use during campaign. He should but carry a letter from the party’s treasurer. Amounts over ₹50,000 and less than ₹10 lakh, without proper documents, would be seized by the officials and would be kept in the treasury. The carriers can get the cash back by producing proper documents before the nodal officer or the returning officer of the district.
The static and flying squad officials said cash-counting machines could help alleviate their troubles. According to the daily update released by the Election Commission of India, of the ₹673 crore seized across the country, Tamil Nadu topped the list with ₹129.70 crore and Andhra stood next with ₹127 crore. The amount seized had crossed ₹100 crore. It was ₹35 crore and ₹25 crore respectively in the previous assembly and parliament elections.