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Poll expenses hike ‘shocks’ Mamata

New Delhi, Feb. 28: The Centre today cleared a poll panel proposal to raise the expenditure limit in Lok Sabha elections to Rs 70 lakh from Rs 40 lakh, taking into account rising inflation and hoping the revision would bring greater transparency.

The panel had said while proposing the higher limits that they would encourage candidates to declare expenses truthfully. “This (the change) is due to the increase in the number of electors, polling stations as well as the increase in inflation,” the government said in a statement after the cabinet approved the move.

The Rs 70-lakh cap will apply to 19 states and Union territories. In the remaining smaller states, the limit be will be Rs 54 lakh, up from Rs 22 lakh.

But not everyone seemed happy. Mamata Banerjee slammed the move and reiterated her demand for “state funding of elections”.

“I am not only surprised but also shocked to see the attitude of the outgoing government on such (an) important policy matter. Instead, the Central Government has decided to increase the poll expenditure limit,” the Bengal chief minister said in a Facebook post.

“The decision will help the capitalist and large political parties…what the poor political parties like us will do? The decision will clearly encourage more and more corruption and black-money. It is shocking, shocking and shocking…I condemn, I condemn and I condemn.”

Sources in the Election Commission said candidates rarely revealed true expenditure and most under-reported. “They show expenses much below the limit, many less than 50 per cent,” said a panel official.

Some of the candidates admitted they did so. “Even the new limit of Rs 70 lakh is too little. Last time I was very controlled but ended up spending more than a crore,” said a Samajwadi MP.

The limit in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections was Rs 25 lakh, revised midway in 2011 to Rs 40 lakh.

Today, the cabinet also cleared a hike in the expenditure limit for Assembly elections, doubling it to Rs 28 lakh for most states. For the smaller states, it will go up from Rs 8 lakh to Rs 20 lakh.

The states and Union territories where the lower Lok Sabha spending limit of Rs 54 lakh will apply include Arunachal, Goa, Sikkim, the Andaman & Nicobar Islands, Chandigarh, Dadra and Nagar Haveli, Daman and Diu, Lakshwadweep and Puducherry.

For Assembly elections, the lower limit of Rs 20 lakh will cover Arunachal Pradesh, Goa, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim, Tripura and Puducherry.