The Election Commission of India (EC) on Monday reported a 636 per cent surge in seizures of cash, jewellery, drugs, liquor, and other freebies, amounting to Rs 1,760 crore, in the ongoing elections across Mizoram, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Telangana.
Enforcement agencies had seized Rs 239.15 crore during the 2018 Assembly polls in these states.
The EC has considered seizures that agencies made in these states since the model code of conduct kicked in on October 9. While Mizoram, Chhattisgarh, and MP have already voted, Rajasthan and Telangana go to polls on November 25 and November 30, respectively.
In Telangana, of the total seizures worth Rs 659.2 crore, that of gold and silver jewellery and other precious metals have comprised Rs 191.02 crore, more than half of the total such seizures of Rs 371.2 crore in the five poll-going states.
In Rajasthan, agencies have seized Rs 341.24 crore of what the EC describes as “freebies and other items”, half of the total seizures in the state worth Rs 650.7 crore.
These ‘freebies’, meant to influence voters, include illegally stored fertilizer, petrol, and diesel. The agencies have also seized illegal arms, ammunition and vehicles in these states.
While not linked to the polls, the EC’s drive in Mizoram led to the recovery of an orangutan. Exotic animals are smuggled into the state from Myanmar.
The EC also released data on seizures that agencies made in the six Assembly elections held since November 2022 but preceding the current round of polls.
According to the data, seizures in Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat elections, held in November-December 2022, and in Tripura, Nagaland, and Meghalaya, held in February-March 2023, were worth Rs 1,413.19 crore. This was a 1,009.12 per cent increase over the Rs 127.41 crore worth of seizures in the elections held in these states five years back.
The EC’s data coincides with all the Assembly elections held during the tenure of the current Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Rajiv Kumar. A 1984 batch Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer, former Union finance secretary Kumar took over as the CEC on May 15, 2022. Kumar joined as an election commissioner on September 1, 2020, and his term is until 2025.
However, the quantum of ‘inducements’ seized has consistently shown an upward trend in the past few years. For example, according to an EC statement in February 2022, agencies seized goods, drugs, cash, and liquor Rs 1,018.2 crore in the run-up to the Assembly polls in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Manipur, Goa, and Punjab in January-February 2022. This was over three times the seizures worth Rs 299.84 crore made in the 2017 round of polls in these states.
The EC attributed the significant increase in seizures in the current round of polls to embedding technology into the monitoring process through the Election Expenditure Monitoring System (ESMS), which has brought an “array of central and state enforcement agencies together for better coordination and intelligence sharing”.
The EC deployed 228 officers, including those from the Indian Revenue Service, as expenditure observers, monitoring 194 expenditure-sensitive constituencies. In the previous round of polls in January-February 2022, inducements worth Rs 1,018.2 crore were seized, a threefold increase from the Rs 299.84 crore seizures in 2017.