How EC is tracking Maharashtra's political activity, ensuring LS polls fair play | Mumbai news - Hindustan Times

How EC is tracking Maharashtra's political activity, ensuring LS polls fair play

Apr 06, 2024 09:53 AM IST

Election Commission enforces strict spending rules, monitors political activity on campuses in Mumbai. Seized goods worth ₹290 crore in Maharashtra.

MUMBAI: After the code of conduct was declared by the Election Commission of India (ECI) a couple of weeks ago, a note on budgetary spends to be followed across the nation was released. As is norm, the financials have been listed in granular detail – from fixing rates of tea and vada pav to rents of plastic chairs -- to be scrutinised by district collectors. In its effort at fair play as political campaigns have kicked off, the constitutional body also asked universities to ensure that relatives of politicians do not participate in any voter awareness programmes.

Election Commission of India (Representative Photo)
Election Commission of India (Representative Photo)

The University of Mumbai (MU) has implemented ECI’s directives and issued notices to all government, non-government, aided and unaided institutions to prevent any political participation in voter awareness initiative on campus. District collectors have issued guidelines with charts on acceptable rates of various food items and campaign material that candidates have to submit in their daily statement. The expense limit for each Lok Sabha candidate is 95 lakh for the entire span of the campaign. The ECI has also issued orders not to use the picture of prime minister Narendra Modi on electricity bills – the missive came on the back of the state-owned MSEDCL printing the PM’s picture on bills, in defiance of the code of conduct.

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Alongside, Maharashtra’s Chief Election Officer (CEO) has set up special surveillance in around ‘15 expenditure sensitive’ constituencies. So far the enforcement agencies have seized money, goods and liquor worth 290 crore.

ECI has appointed two retired civil servants (an IAS and IPS) as special observers to monitor the implementation of the code of conduct, including expenditure. On Friday the officers conducted a meeting of all enforcement agencies and asked them to take stringent actions against those violating the code of conduct.

To monitor on-ground situation, the chief election commissioner (CEC) has formed around 2096 Static Surveillance Teams (SST) and 1656 Flying Squad Teams (FST) across the state. The teams are in every assembly constituency segments of all 48 Lok Sabha constituencies. Those populating the teams are officers and employees from various departments such as police, sales tax, income tax, revenue, excise etc. The CEC is also co-ordinating with 19 enforcement agencies such as Income tax, Customs, State and Central GST, ED, Narcotics Control Bureau, police, coast guards, directorate of revenue intelligence, Railway Protection Force and central industrial security force.

“The teams are constantly monitoring and visiting the various places and taking action on their own and on complaints registered. From March 16 onwards agencies have seized money, goods, liquor, precious metals like gold-silver valued at 289 crores,” said an officer from CEC’s office.

MU ups the ante

MU’s stringent measures also stem from recent reports by students at Thakur College, Kandivali, about being coerced into attending a seminar featuring a speech by BJP member Dhruv Goyal, son of Piyush Goyal, minister of state for power and renewable energy. After the announcement of LS elections, a few colleges had initiated voter awareness programmes, which prompted MU to issue explicit instructions to keep campuses free of political activity.

Pradeep Sawant, a former management council member of MU, raised concerns, stating, “We lodged a complaint against such events and demanded an assurance from MU that similar incidents do not recur, warning of protests if action is not taken.” Sawant also referenced a previous event involving a voter registration drive featuring the prime minister’s speech at Kirti College, Dadar.

EC responded by dashing off a letter to principal secretaries of higher education and school education, to disallow political personalities and local political workers in educational premises during any awareness campaigns.

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