The Jalandhar election authorities have failed to implement the orders of the Election Commission of India on making flying squads operational to check attempts to bribe voters and setting up round-the-clock call centres to enable citizens to lodge complaints regarding corrupt electoral practices. The orders were to come into force soon after the announcement of the election schedule in Punjab.
Though in order to effectively check the use of “money” power during the elections, the EC had made it mandatory to make flying squads operational immediately after the announcement of elections, the Jalandhar election authorities have failed to even constitute the teams. There is no check on political parties, which are openly flouting the code of conduct by defacing the city with their hoardings.
Intriguingly, the EC had declared all nine assembly segments of Jalandhar district, including Kartarpur, Adampur, Phillaur, Nakodar, Shahkot, Jalandhar Cantt, Jalandhar North, Jalandhar West and Jalandhar Central, as expenditure-sensitive constituencies.
While district election officer (DEO) Priyank Bharti was not available for comments, tehsildar (elections) Jagtar Singh admitted that flying squads were yet to be constituted. “We are yet to finalise the names of certain officials for these squads, but the exercise will be completed soon. The polls have been scheduled a bit early than we expected. We were assuming that the elections would be held in February and were preparing accordingly,” he said.
Interestingly, it is mandatory for the DEO and the SP concerned to constitute these squads and train members in advance before the notification. Besides, the names and mobile numbers of the officers and the magistrate who are part of the flying squad was meant to be publicised in local media to encourage citizens to come forward with their complaints and suggestions regarding corrupt electoral practices to the squad for immediate action.
The commission has instructed that on the basis of past history, profile of the constituency and other developments, the CEO should identify the constituencies which are prone to high expenditure and corrupt practices and declare them as expenditure-sensitive.
Besides, the district election officers are to appoint one senior officer not below the rank of SDM/ADM conversant with accounting as nodal officer of the expenditure monitoring cell comprising expenditure observers, video surveillance teams, video viewing teams, accounting teams, expenditure monitoring control room and call centre, media certification and monitoring committee, flying squads and a static surveillance team.
Similarly, no round-the-clock toll-free call centres have been set up. In a communiqué to the CEO, the EC had said that expenditure-monitoring control rooms should be set up in every district, where a round-the-clock call centre should be made operational from the date of notification of election.
The call centre will be given toll-free telephone numbers with three-four hunting lines and the facility will be widely publicised for the public so that they could file complaints regarding corrupt poll practices. A senior officer will be made incharge of the control room and the call centre. The control room will be responsible for receiving and recording complaints and immediately passing them on to the officer concerned for action. The centre will be provided with sufficient staff to man the telephone lines round the clock.
Tehisldar Jagtar Singh said that the call centres would also be made operational soon as they were in the process of getting hunting telephone lines.
Meanwhile, an HT team found that the BJP, SAD, Congress, PPP and BSP are violating the code of conduct with impunity by erecting huge billboards carrying pictures and slogans of their party leaders. The poll officials and the municipal corporation authorities have failed to remove the hoardings.
Role of flying squads
The EC has ordered that there should be one or more dedicated flying squads in each assembly constituency for tracking illegal cash transactions or any distribution of liquor or any other items suspected of being used for bribing the voters. The squads would consist of one senior executive magistrate as head of the team, one senior police officer of the police station concerned, one videographer and three-four armed police personnel.
The squads are required to reach the spot immediately after receiving complaints regarding distribution of such materials. They are meant to seize the items of bribe and gather evidences and record statements of the witnesses and persons involved. The returning officer will file FIRs against both the persons receiving and giving bribe.
It is mandatory to deploy two assistant expenditure observers and flying squads each instead of one each in expenditure-sensitive constituencies, which will also have static and video surveillance teams deployed to check corrupt practices. Expenditure observers will start functioning from the date of notification of the elections.