The Election Commission of India (ECI) had, as on 1 May, seized cash and goods worth ₹305 crore since the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) for the Karnataka Assembly elections came into force on 29 March.
The ECI has been active since then as well.
The latest seizure was by the Income Tax (I-T) Department, on Saturday, 6 May, of ₹15 crore cash and ₹5 crore worth of jewellery following raiding multiple locations in Bengaluru and Mysuru.
The I-T Department reportedly targeted a few financiers who allegedly mobilised resources for funding candidates.
While the total liquor seizure in Karnataka was close to 20 lakh litres, around 1,700 kg of drugs collectively worth ₹95 crore were also confiscated.
Based on the amount ECI shared, the 2023 Karnatala Assembly polls seizure amounts were around four times higher than the 2018 Karnataka elections, where items worth ₹83 crore in total were seized.
As per the ECI’s 2021 Standard Operating Procedure (SOP), if cash over ₹50,000 or items (like drugs, liquor, arms, gifts, or posters) over ₹10,000 are found in a vehicle with a candidate, or his agent, or a party worker, it is to be seized immediately as it is likely to be otherwise used for inducing voters.
What happens to the money/assets seized?
The 13th Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) of India, TS Krishnamurthy, told South First, “When cash or assets are seized, normally an explanation is sought from the person who is found with the money. Either he or she denies knowing the source of the money, or says who the owner is. Generally, the money seized during elections is by the police of the state where the polls are scheduled. The police then inform the I-T Department.”
He continued, “The I-T Department, with the help of the police, verifies the trail of money. If the owner of the money proves with documents and evidence that the money is a genuine transaction, then it is returned. Otherwise, it is considered money to be used during the elections. In that case the money is impounded.”
The 17th CEC SY Quaraishi told South First, “The procedures after unaccounted money is seized during elections is quite similar to the procedures followed when the black money is seized.”
Meanwhile, after the money is seized, “assessment proceedings” are carried out by the I-T Department under Section 132 (5) of the 1961 Income Tax Act.
Krishnamurthy noted that, under the Income Tax Act, the assessing officer has to issue an order.
As per Section 132 of the I-T Act, the officer in the order estimates the total amount seized and also calculates the amount of tax to be levied on the seized money in accordance with the provisions of the law.
The ECI is kept in the loop during the whole process, according to the former CECs.
“If there is an angle of terrorism or money laundering, the Enforcement Directorate and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) intervene in the case,” Krishnamurthy said.
What does the ECI SOP say?
As per the ECI 2021 SOP, “distribution of cash or any item of bribe or use of muscle power for influencing electors is a crime” under IPC Sections 171 B and C (bribery or gratification).
To keep a check on the violations when the MCC is in effect, the ECI constitutes three or more Flying Squads (FS) and Static Surveillance Teams (SST) in each Assembly constituency.
The FS is directed to attend and record all the complaints of threat, intimidation, liquor distribution, arms, large sums of cash, and others.
With the help of a Video Surveillance Team (VST), it also has to videograph all the major expenses made by political parties.
As per the ECI SOP, the vehicles of the FS are also directed to be equipped with CCTV cameras and webcams.
The magistrate of the FS has to send a daily activity report to the District Election Officer appointed by the state EC about the seizure of cash and other items.
In case the FS is unable to reach the spot informed by the complainant, the SST or the local police are asked to do so.
The SST mans the checkposts at expenditure-sensitive constituencies and keeps an eye out for large sum of money, liquor, and other such items. It usually operates the same way as the FS.
Elections to the 224-member Karnataka Assembly are scheduled for 10 May, and the results will be out three days later on 13 May.