The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Poll splurge in public eye

New Delhi, Nov. 27: The Election Commission today thrust the thorny poll expenditure issue into the public domain, releasing for the first time detailed figures submitted by parties for the May general elections.

By its own statement, the Congress spent a whopping Rs 125 crore in its effort to dislodge the ruling BJP from its hotseat. This means as much as Rs 30.08 lakh was spent on each of its 417 candidates in the fray, including publicity, travel and other expenses.

The BJP, speculated to have splurged the most to keep 'India Shining', has yet to submit its statement of accounts. The Election Commission has sent it a notice fixing November 30 as the last date for submitting the figures.

Although political parties have had to hand in their statements since the time of reformist chief election commissioner T.N. Seshan, the general public has never got a peek at them. By scoring this first, the poll panel has thrown the issue open to public debate.

'We have placed the figures before the public. It is for the people to look at the figures and decide whether this kind of lavish expenditure is called for. There must be a public debate on the issue of state funding of elections,' a senior Election Commission official said.

'It is not for us to call for curbing of election expenditure, it is for the people of this country to understand the public wastage and force the system to change.'

While there is a ceiling on the amount each candidate can spend in his/her constituency during elections, there is no curb on the funds parties can use for electioneering.

Election Commission sources said the time had come to stop this kind of extravagance. But unlike Seshan who tried to set the pace of reforms himself, the panel wants the public to force parties to act.

The Congress statement says the party spent Rs 49 crore on publicity, including printed materials, use of electronic media, advertisements in newspapers and on cutouts, hoardings and banners.

Approximately Rs 8.71 crore went for air travel expenses, including hiring aircraft and helicopters to ferry top leaders. Road travel, by trains and cars, cost about Rs 34 lakh.

This apart, about Rs 60 crore was spent on candidates.

Comparatively, smaller parties spent much less. While the CPM spent about Rs 8.26 crore, the Bahujan Samaj Party's expenses were just over Rs 4 crore. The Nationalist Congress Party spent Rs 31 lakh and the CPI Rs 28 lakh.

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