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EC glare on poll bills once in three days

New Delhi, Oct. 30: The use of money will come under the unwavering glare of the Election Commission during the year-end Assembly elections with candidates being told to submit expenditure accounts “once in three days”.

Chief Election Commissioner J.M. Lyngdoh today told 500 observers who will monitor elections in five states that the “special focus” should be on expenses.

An Election Commission official said the candidates would be asked to show the accounts of poll expenditure to the observers or returning officers once in three days. The accounts will be displayed on the notice board of the returning office to ensure that it will be open to public scrutiny.

The Union cabinet had recently raised the ceiling on expenditure by a candidate in an Assembly contest to Rs 10 lakh and in a parliamentary poll to Rs 25 lakh. Earlier, the limits were Rs 6 lakh for an Assembly seat and Rs 15 lakh for a parliamentary candidate.

The ceiling varies from state to state. The limit for the coming Assembly polls in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh has been set at Rs 10 lakh, while the figure for Delhi is Rs 9 lakh and for Mizoram Rs 5 lakh.

Submission of accounts twice a week will tax both the candidates and the commission but it brings about an unparalleled phase of transparency in Indian elections, where money and muscle power are often at play with impunity.

The BJP as well as the Congress — the two key players in the Assembly polls — believe that the commission’s directive would be difficult to implement at a time when the parties will be busy campaigning.

Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, a general secretary and spokesperson of the BJP, said: “The rule already says that each candidate should submit expenses regularly. It is not feasible to do so in the midst of campaigning, though there are party people assigned the specific task of dealing with this.”

A senior Congress leader said the directive would only prompt the candidates to “engage half-a-dozen lawyers for the job”.

He added that accounts are difficult to maintain and political parties know how to dodge the limit. “For instance, there could be an official account for 10 vehicles. But 100 other vehicles will be going around without flags.”

The observers have been asked to ensure that candidates file affidavits detailing assets and criminal record, if any, in accordance with the new law.

“The returning officer should make them available freely on the same day of nomination,” the commission said. Copies will be given to the media free of charge. “But anyone else who wishes to have a copy can get it by paying a fee,” an official said.

The commission has also asked the observers to ensure strict compliance with the model code of conduct.

Two days ago the commission received complaints of violation of code of conduct from Jashpur and Bastar in Chhattisgarh. School bags with chief minister Ajit Jogi’s photographs were being distributed. Finding the explanations unsatisfactory, the commission had asked for removal of the district officers concerned.

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