As candidates launch their campaigns for the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) polls, organise rallies and woo voters by distributing freebies, 15 income-tax officials (ITOs) will be keeping an eye on these politicians in a first for the state. The ITOs will not only scan expenditure accounts and employ accountants to track expenses, they will also track unaccounted for money (black money) being used in election campaigns.
The exercise will begin with around 30-40 electoral wards identified on the basis of initial observation and the ITOs will closely monitor expenditure of candidates in those wards.
A team of 40 ITOs will also monitor the spending in nine other municipal corporations in Maharashtra going to polls next month.
The state election commission (SEC) has decided to crack down on massive use of black money during the polls. They have also instructed banks to report any kind of suspicious transactions or cash withdrawals to the elections monitoring committee headed by BMC commissioner Ajoy Mehta.
State election commissioner JS Saharia said the ITOs will act as independent observers, who will keep an eye on the expenses and check if limits are exceeded. Candidates are allowed to spend up to Rs5 lakh and breaches can invite disqualification, said civic officials. A surveillance team and the election commission’s videographers and accounts teams will also assist the ITOs, an official from the SEC said.
The official explained that the videographers will shoot campaigns and meetings of candidates that will help the ITOs make an estimate of the expenditures.
Senior civic officials said the teams will be looking at 30-40 key constituencies based on the vulnerability of the wards, the propensity of the candidates and also high-profile politicians. The process of preparing this confidential list will begin when the nominations are filed from January 27, a senior civic official said. “There will be extra vigilance of these crucial areas where the stakes are high or include high-profile candidates.”
The BMC elections are scheduled for February 21 and results will be declared on February 23. On Saturday, Saharia held a meeting with authorities from the civic bodies, police, I-T department and Customs for election preparedness, at the BMC headquarters.
“We have instructed officials for increased patrolling in mangroves, forest areas, uncontrolled air-strips and helipads for cash inflow and illicit liquor. We want strict adherence to the model code of conduct and we will ensure strict action against violators,” Saharia said.
Saharia said that citizens will get to know the candidates’ background this elections (including criminal records and educational qualifications) on flex boards displayed at polling booths. The information will also be published in various newspapers, he said. “According to the Supreme Court judgment, citizens have the right to know their candidates’ details.”
BMC will be setting-up 7,433 polling booths across the city with 12,000 voting machines installed and 35,000 police officials and 42,000 civic officials will be on-duty on voting day, civic officials said.