Pre-poll seizures cross ₹300 crore in Karnataka
Pre-poll seizures in Karnataka made so far since the announcement of the 2023 Assembly elections touched a whopping ₹302 crore on Saturday. This is over 2.5 times higher than what was recorded during the corresponding period in 2018 when ₹115. 91 crore had been seized.
In fact, this time’s seizures are almost equal to the pre-poll seizures made in the last four elections in Karnataka. While ₹14.42 crore was seized in 2013 Assembly polls, ₹28.08 crore was confiscated in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, ₹185.74 crore in the 2018 Assembly polls and ₹88.27 crore in 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
Nearly 28% of the total seizures, including cash, liquor, drugs, and precious metals have been made in Bengaluru Urban. While ₹81.76 crore have been seized in this district alone, Chikkamagaluru and Shivamogga follow with ₹33.87 crore and ₹30.82 crore respectively.
The EC had seized cash and articles worth nearly ₹58 crore (between March 9 to 27) even before the election date was announced. Nearly 100 constituencies have been identified as expenditure sensitive this year and the ECI has deputed 145 expenditure observers this time.
Acknowledging that a major concern in Karnataka is the use of money power, Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Rajiv Kumar, during a review of preparations in the first week of March in Karnataka, had said although the EC was prepared in terms of physical infrastructure, the State agencies were lagging behind in regulating the distribution of freebies.
He had directed the election officials not to wait for the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) and start regulating electoral malpractices by extensively using sections 171B and 171E of the Indian Penal Code. Following this, ₹58 crore had been seized even before the announcement of polls.
The EC has put in place 2,040 flying squads, 2,605 static surveillance teams, 266 video viewing teams, 631 video surveillance teams and 225 accounting teams. Of the total 942 check posts, 171 have been set up at inter-State borders to track the movement and distribution of goods and monetary transactions to ensure inducement-free election.
In 2018, a total of 1,344 flying squads and 1,255 static surveillance teams were set up to monitor electoral irregularities and fraud. This was apart from 200 mobile squads of the Commercial Tax Department.
Attributing the high seizures to increased enforcement activity by various agencies and active vigilance by State electoral machinery, Venkatesh Kumar R., Additional Chief Electoral Officer (CEO), told The Hindu that distribution of freebies is rampant this election.
“The two largest freebie hauls that have been seized are from Bengaluru and Shivamogga. While freebies worth ₹4.5 crore were seized in Shivamogga, a consignment of freebies worth ₹3.6 crore were seized in Byatarayanapura in Bengaluru,” Mr. Kumar said.
Pointing out that increased citizen participation in enforcing the MCC has also helped, the official said as many as 8,880 complaints had been received through the cVIGIL mobile application so far. As many as 8,865 complaints were found to be correct and action has been taken, he said.