Over the last few assembly polls, the Election Commission of India has ensured strict zero tolerance towards movement and distribution of liquor, cash, drugs and freebies.
In the age of Digital India, technology has been a great help for the poll body in ensuring free and fair elections across 11 states that went for polls in the last one year.
Pre-poll seizures in the elections held this year stood at a massive Rs 3,400 crore, with nearly half of this seized in the recently concluded five elections.
The 11 states that went for polls in the last few months were Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Mizoram, Rajasthan, Telangana, Karnataka, Nagaland, Meghalaya, Tripura, Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh.
The ECI data, seen by News18, shows that among all the states, the highest seizure was reported from Gujarat at Rs 801.85 crore. In 2018, the seizure from the state was only worth Rs 27.21 crore.
The next in line was Telangana at Rs 776.41 crore. In 2018, the seizure in the state stood at only Rs 103.89 crore. It is followed by Rajasthan where the seizure stood at Rs 703.12 crore.
In the five states – Chhattisgarh (Rs 77.85 crore), Madhya Pradesh (Rs 332.17 crore), Mizoram (Rs 122.72 crore), Rajasthan, Telangana – that went for polls in November, the seizure of freebies, cash, liquor drugs and precious metals stood at Rs 2,012 crore – almost 10 times higher than the seizure worth Rs 239.15 crore in the previous polls.
In Karnataka, Nagaland, Meghalaya, Tripura, Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh, the collective seizure in the previous polls stood at Rs 127.41 crore. In the elections held in late 2017 and earlier this year, the collective seizure stood at Rs 1,413.19 crore.
So, how was this possible? Officials say the feat was all thanks to technology.
In the elections held in November, the ECI introduced Election Expenditure Monitoring System, bringing a wide array of central and state enforcement agencies together for better coordination and intelligence sharing.
“In the last few assembly polls, particularly those held this year, the seizure was very high. It is because ECI is doing all it can to ensure that the elections are held free and fair,” an official said, seeking anonymity.
The official said there were strict orders from Chief Election Commissioner Rajiv Kumar that there should be strict vigil over sensitive routes and zones for transport of illicit items. Enforcement agencies were directed to function in coordinated manner with joint operations, they said.
During review in poll-bound states, Kumar had said that “the movement and distribution of liquor, cash, drugs and freebies should be dried up. These four are our top priority for free, fair and inducement-free elections”.
The official also added that the cVIGIL app – developed to create a fast-track complaint reception and redressal system for citizens to report Model Code of Conduct and expenditure violations during the elections – also was a great help. In the last five elections, there were about 6,000 complaints related to liquor, gift or coupon and money distribution.
What is ESMS?
It is a system aimed at quick sharing of information by intercepting enforcement agencies to other relevant agencies for multiple deterrence. It provides easy coordination at the level of the Chief Electoral Officer and District Election Officer with multiple enforcement agencies involved in the election expenditure monitoring process.
The platform for the ECI officials facilitated real-time reporting and saved time in collecting and compiling reports from various agencies and better coordination.
“It is a tech platform for real-time updates on seizures from the field by multifarious state and central enforcement agencies. It was an initial app. The feedback from the poll-bound states showed that the app worked fine and also helped the election expenditure monitoring process,” the official added.
They went on to say that higher seizure in assembly elections shows ECI’s “unwavering commitment to ensuring free, fair and inducement free elections by implementing robust measures to monitor inducements and curb electoral malpractices for a level playing field”.
The ECI is hopeful that with the Lok Sabha polls round the corner, systems like these will be a great help in ensuring free and fair elections.