The poll expenditure limit for Lok Sabha elections has been raised by a whopping 75% for the coming elections on persistent pleas of political parties. But going by claims made in expenditure statements submitted to the Election Commission (EC), cash-rich contestants in Punjab and Haryana have been frugal spenders.
The candidates, many of them crorepatis, spent much less than they were entitled to in the 2009 parliamentary polls.
While the expenditure limit was Rs 25 lakh for each candidate, on an average, they spent Rs 3.63 lakh in Punjab.
Of the 218 candidates for the state’s 13 Lok Sabha seats, 22% were crorepatis, including 13 from the Congress, 10 from the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and three from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
The average expense of elected MPs was among the lowest in the country, at Rs 12.22 lakh — 48.9% of the expenditure limit — according to an analysis by the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) on basis of claims filed by the MPs in their election expenditure affidavits.
The average worth of assets of the SAD, BJP and the Congress candidates was Rs 9 crore, Rs 17 crore and Rs 9.7 crore in the last Lok Sabha elections.
The limit, which was raised to Rs 40 lakh in 2011, has been further revised to Rs 70 lakh now on account of inflation.
In neighbouring Haryana, candidates spent Rs 4.12 lakh on an average in 2009.
Of the 210 contestants for the state’s 10 seats, 30% were crorepatis, with all major parties — the Congress, BJP, INLD and the Haryana Janhit Congress-Bhajan Lal (HJC) — fielding well-heeled candidates. The average election expense of elected MPs was Rs 14.66 lakh — even lower than in 2004.
Though the Centre has raised the expense ceiling on the EC’s suggestion, the move has failed to find favour with poll reforms activists.
ADR founder-director Jagdeep Chhokar feels the revision is irrelevant: “Most MPs claimed their poll expenses to be much lower than the ceiling in 2009. If the limit is doubled or even trebled, it will still be nowhere close to what a top BJP leader from Maharashtra once said he spent on his campaign. Efforts are needed to check use of black money.”
Former chief election commissioner SY Quraishi, another votary of poll reforms, has also repeatedly questioned the claims of frugal spending.
During the 2012 assembly polls in Punjab, he had remarked that there appeared to be a case for downward revision of the expenditure limit since the candidates had filed statements in which their poll expenses were much below the ceiling.