Why thousands of crores of cash distribution during polls skip I-T sleuths' attention?

Tamil Nadu’s dubious electoral reputation therefore does not rest merely on market gossip. Over the years, its cash for vote capers have become the stuffs of legend

S Murlidharan May 24, 2016 12:50:33 IST
Why thousands of crores of cash distribution during polls skip I-T sleuths' attention?

Tax sleuths descend on lavish marriages and parties to keep a discreet but hawkish eye on the happenings with a view to sizing up the extent of splurge and later asking for the sources. The tip off comes from a variety of sources including the banquet hall owner and hence one may say it is no big deal. But I-T sleuths also have informants who trigger tax raids. The high value transactions regime under which sub-registrars have to notify the tax department if the property is registered for Rs 30 lakh or more etc is also an excellent tax intelligence gathering device.

Why thousands of crores of cash distribution during polls skip IT sleuths attention

In the event, eyebrows go up naturally when the I-T sleuths choose to turn a blind eye to the distribution of cash packets in our elections. Tamil Nadu especially has earned notoriety for this dubious practice. In the recently concluded assembly elections in that state, the two dominant regional parties reportedly have distributed cash packets at the rate of Rs 250 per voter aggregating to a mammoth cash distribution of Rs 1,000 crore across the state.

There cannot be any smoke without fire goes the cliché. Tamil Nadu’s dubious electoral reputation therefore does not rest merely on market gossip. Over the years, its cash for vote capers have become the stuffs of legend. At any rate, what prevents the income tax department from keeping an equally hawkish vigil on this blatantly unethical and illegal practice? One may say cynically that when both the main rivals distribute cash, the ultimate outcome is influenced by factors other than the cash distributed. May be, but is that a weighty enough reason for the I-T department to turn a Nelson’s eye to this growing evil?

Conducting a free and fair election is not the job of the Election Commission (EC) alone. To be sure, it does take pains to video graph important political rallies. It takes police support to intercept vehicles carrying cash in excess of the limits it prescribes. But it seems to be at its wits’ end in unraveling the mystery behind cash. It is here the IT sleuths ought to step in. Why can’t the IT sleuths fan out in vulnerable pockets and take up residence for the nonce so that they can act on the cash coming their way? The cash thus received at their temporary doorsteps, as it were, can be traced back to its source given some amount of diligence and intelligence.

Indeed, the saga of EC vigilance is a saga of lack of follow up or support by the tax sleuths. The EC asks every candidate in assembly and Lok Sabha elections to file an affidavit listing all the assets of the contestant and his/her spouse. There have been mind-blowing disclosures, with the top honors going to the BSP supremo Mayawati’s famous disclosure of prime property in Delhi’s Sardar Patel Marg valued at Rs 380 crore.

The glib explanation by politicians is what they can do if the property prices appreciate. Touché! Alas, if only the tax sleuths properly follow up on the confession extracted by the EC! Time has come to refuse to confer the touch-me- not status to the politicians. It is costing the nation dear. Vijay Mallya slipped out of the country thanks to his fabled connections across the political and administrative spectrum. The Teflon image enjoyed by politicians is ruining the country and gnawing at its vitals. We admire at our democracy and its ability to throw out non-performers. But we scarcely spare a thought for the way the elections are funded in policy circles.

Yes, the commentariat agonize over the ills of our political funding with some suggesting state funding as the ultimate panacea but who will stop the cynical and blasé distribution of cash and other blandishments to the blighted electorate which has over the years learnt to accept cash with two eager hands from whosoever is distributing but vote as per the dictates of their conscience. This is a small redeeming factor but that does not exonerate the somnolence bordering on the indifference of the tax sleuths.

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