Bribe to voters in 5 Assembly polls at record high of Rs 1,000 cr: EC

New Delhi: The seizure of illegal inducements to voters, such as liquor and cash, during the ongoing polls to five assemblies and by-polls to some seats has crossed the record value of Rs 1,000 crore, a whopping jump of over four times since the 2016 polls, the Election Commission said on Friday.

An Election Commission "progressive" report, which will get updated as the remaining phases of poll are conducted, said the maximum Rs 446.28 crore was seized in Tamil Nadu, where the elections have already ended, followed by West Bengal (Rs 300.11 crore), where four phases are yet to take place.

Polling in Assam, Kerala and the Union Territory of Puducherry has also finished. Counting of votes for these five assemblies is slated to be held on May 2.

The poll-panel called these seizures by its various field and technical enforcement teams a "historic milestone" achieved "for the first time in any assembly electoral process , meaning during simultaneously-held assembly polls.

"The stupendous rise in seizure figures is because of better preparedness and multi-pronged strategy of the Commission. The Commission conducted exhaustive reviews at various levels which included review meetings with enforcement agencies of the state/UT and central agencies," the EC said in a statement.

The agencies of the Union government primarily include the Income Tax Department, the Customs and GST directorates and the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU).

According to data compiled till Thursday, the EC said, Tamil Nadu had reported a total seizures of Rs 446.28 crore, West Bengal Rs 300.11 crore (so far), Assam 122.35 crore, Kerala Rs 84.91 crore, Puducherry Rs 36.95 crore.

Additionally, the seizure of cash, liquor, drugs and other freebies of Rs 10.84 crore was reported in constituencies that saw by-polls during the same period, it said.

The total value of these seizures stands at Rs 1001.44 crore while it was Rs 225.77 crore in these five assemblies during the 2016 assembly polls.

A pie chart analysis shows that while liquor (Rs 41.97 crore out of total Rs 122.35 crore) was the freebie that was being pushed maximum to lure voters in Assam, precious metals (Rs 27.42 crore out of total Rs 36.95 crore) was used the most as a bribe to attract voters in the Union Territory of Puducherry.

Similarly, in Tamil Nadu, cash (Rs 236.69 crore out of total Rs 446.28 crore) was abused the most as poll bribe, while in Kerala precious metals was used the most to attract voters (Rs 50.86 crore out of Rs 84.91 crore).

In West Bengal-- where the remaining four phases of polls are scheduled to take place on Saturday followed by on April 22, 26 and 29 -- drugs and narcotics are the highest category of illegal inducements seized till now (Rs 118.83 crore out of the total Rs 300.11 crore).

The EC said it had deployed a total of 326 expenditure observers, including five special expenditure observers, for free and fair conduct of these polls, while 259 assembly seats were marked as 'expenditure sensitive' for what it called "focussed vigil" to check the flow of black money and freebies.

As per the law, distributing cash and gifts during the electoral process with the intent to influence voters is not permitted and such expenditure comes under the definition of bribery which is an offence both under 171B of IPC and under the Representation of People Act.

"The expenditure on such items is illegal. The drive against the menace of money power will continue with vigour in the remaining phases of elections and the seizure figures are expected to rise even further," the EC said.

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