The Election Commission has put 800 experienced IAS officers as expenditure observers to scuttle the use of money power — in cash or kind — and enforce a level playing field during the nine phased Lok Sabha election starting from April 7.
This is the first time in the history of Lok Sabha elections that the Commission is using expenditure observers. The Commission's officials, and even politicians, concede in private that Lok Sabha candidates spend crores to influence and bribe voters ahead of polls. At times, the money spent by a candidate can go up to Rs 20 crore. The revised limit for candidates for election expenditure has been capped by the Commission at Rs 70 lakh.
The 800 expenditure observers have been drawn from director and joint secretary level (1984 batch and onwards) IAS and IRS officers, who will fan out in critical constituencies to ensure fair polling by curbing the use of money power.
"The thumb rule for them is not to allow any candidate to disturb the level-playing field by spending more than Rs 70 lakh that has been revised recently by the Commission," election commissioner HS Brahma told dna.
To make the impossible task possible, each expenditure observer will be accompanied by 2-3 assistant expenditure observers, 7-8 micro observers and about 8-10 paramilitary personnel to make the drive against use of money power effective.
"The task cut out by the Commission for expenditure observers includes taking feedback from state income tax departments about the candidates' net worth to know which candidate has the capacity to spend how much money," said another official of the Election Commission.
The observers will also have the power to check the movement of money and bribes (liquor, freebies, etc), to confiscate and book offenders under the Representation of People's Act, 1951. They will also keep a tab on money spent by candidates in all forms of media — print, electronic and social — and also check campaigning material expenses.
But will they prove effective in a democracy wherein candidates find novel ways to use money power?
"Yes. After using expenditure observers in the recent assembly elections, we are pretty confident of the effectiveness in at least curbing the lavish spends by candidates. To start with, in Andhra Pradesh, expenditure observers have already seized over Rs 76 lakh in cash," said a senior commission official.
How it will work
- 800 IAS and IRS directors or joint secretary level officers will serve as expenditure observers
- Each observer's team will comprise 2-3 assistant expenditure observers, 7-8 micro observers and 8-10 paramilitary personnel
- Will have power to assess candidates' net worth, monitor expense and check movement of money and freebies