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How frugal is our poll affidavit valley

New Delhi, March 4: India’s MPs spent less than 60 per cent of their poll expense limit, according to an analysis of affidavits filed by candidates after the 2009 general election.

The analysis also threw up more interesting titbits: vehicles, apparently, are the modern-day vote-gatherers. As for public rallies, where many a leader has honed their oratorical skills, well, they seem to have taken a back seat. The least the MPs spent was on meetings and processions.

Not that they have made up for this frugality in other ways. According to the affidavits submitted by 437 MPs to the Election Commission, 129 — nearly 30 per cent — declared election expenses of less than 50 per cent of the limit in their constituencies.

The average amount they spent in the elections works out to about Rs 14.62 lakh, which is 59 per cent of the average expense limit for all states.

The limit varies, depending on the size of the state: The bigger the state, the higher the cap. The government recently approved an Election Commission proposal to raise the expenditure limit for the Lok Sabha elections from Rs 40 lakh to Rs 70 lakh for each constituency in bigger states like Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Bengal and Karnataka.

For smaller states like Goa, the amount has been raised to Rs 54 lakh from Rs 22 lakh on a par with the hilly and Northeast states.

The government also cleared a proposal to raise expenditure limits for Assembly elections, with a maximum of Rs 28 lakh and a minimum of Rs 20 lakh.

Professor Trilochan Shastry, founder, Association for Democratic Reforms, which conducted the study, said raising the ceiling would not address the real issues facing the electoral process. “We need a level playing ground so that any public-minded citizen with a desire for public service should be able to contest elections and not be at a disadvantage.

“Second, we need more transparency in funding and the source of funding.... Everyone knows about the huge amount of black money in elections,” he said.

In private, MPs admitted the average amount spent by a Lok Sabha candidate varies from Rs 3-5 crore.

The figures submitted to the poll panel by the MPs are not independently verified.

According to the declared expenditure, the 437 MPs spent Rs 63.9 crore during the 2009 Lok Sabha elections. The break-up revealed the surprises. Most MPs spent the maximum amount — 34 per cent — on vehicles for campaigns; 23 per cent on campaign material, 16 per cent on miscellaneous expenses and the least for public meetings — 13 per cent.

Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee, for instance, spent just Rs 7,800 for public meetings and processions, according to her declaration.

Only 28 per cent of the MPs declared that they had not spent anything on campaigning through the electronic/print media, Congress chief Sonia Gandhi being one of them. Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, however, spent Rs 16,000 on campaigning through these media. Mother and son collectively spent Rs 23 lakh.

The maximum expense was declared by a Samajwadi Party candidate: about Rs 57.39 lakh.