New Delhi: Chief Election Commissioner SY Quraishi has said that the use of black money during the Assembly elections was a major cause for concern and the EC was trying its best to deal with it. In an interview with CNN-IBN, Quraishi spoke about the use of money power, liquor and drugs during elections and the EC's efforts to crack it.
Rajdeep Sardesai: Mr Quraishi, we are seeing the assets of politicians' multiplying manifolds over last few years. Does it concern the Election Commission?
SY Quraishi: You know, we leave it to the judgment of the people themselves, because by getting affidavit from the candidate and making it public and letting people know the condition of their candidates financially, it is their judgment. But controlling money in elections, especially black money, is a major concern and we are dealing with it.
Rajdeep Sardesai: But Mr Quraishi, the fear is that many of these declarations is smokescreen. For example, Sharad Pawar declared he has only one ambassador car. Are you taking these declarations on face value?
SY Quraishi: You know, the law requires that we don't look into affidavit at the time of nomination because the ROs (Returning Officers) have no way to verify the authenticity of these affidavits but what we do is that we put them in public domain straightaway and later on, pass these affidavits to the Income Tax department for verification. Once these are in the public domain, there are many people who will analyse that and point out falsities in those affidavits.
Rajdeep Sardesai: Don't you see it as a loophole that people can file false affidavits and the Election Commission cannot do much about it?
SY Quraishi: False affidavit is perjury and serious action can be taken against it because that in any case is a criminal offence.
Rajdeep Sardesai: Money power is also a major concern for the Election Commission. But do you think that the Election Commission has still not been able to do as much as it wants, to control black money in elections?
SY Quraishi: Of course there is a great scope for improvement but what we have done is substantial. We have got feedback from a lot of politicians who say they are relieved. For every Rs 1 crore seized, we have prevented flow of at least Rs 25-30 crores. There is feedback from a lot of industrialists who are saying that no one is coming to collect money from them now. I think there is a lot of fear.
Rajdeep Sardesai: We are being told that unofficially, the cost of important candidates in Punjab and UP can run upto Rs 5-10 crores, which is way above the prescribed limit.
SY Quraishi: One possibility is that this time candidates were announced much before the moral code of conduct came into play. This is a deep rooted problem and there is a lot of money and it is flowing. But some fear has gone into these people and we are checking at airports, roads, railway stations and then these people complain of being harassed. If we do strict checking, it is called harassment and if we ignore, we are accused of being indifferent. We really don't know what more can we do.
Rajdeep Sardesai: Don't you think this money is going underground now in form of liquor, inducements? What used to be overground earlier is happening underground now...
SY Quraishi: To some extent it may be true but to say it is going into liquor... we are also seizing liquor. In Punjab alone, we have seized 6 lakh litres of liquor. We have also being seizing drugs. In the last three days, we have seized 14, 15, 16 kg of heroine at the border. This also is going along with the money.
Rajdeep Sardesai: Election Commission is seizing large amount of liquor, heroine especially in Punjab... Don't you think it undermines the concept of free and fair elections, that elections can be bought in India?
SY Quraishi: Yes, exactly. That is our basic problem. Money is the root cause of all the corruption in the country. If a candidate spends Rs 5 crores on winning the elections, the first day of his winning, he will call all the officers and ask them to fix 'hafta' to recover his cost. We have to cleanse the election system from money power.
Rajdeep Sardesai: Mr Quraishi, a number of candidates in Punjab are using their own channels for propaganda. There are lots of people that may say it is paid news. Are you also cracking on that thing?
SY Quraishi: Yes, very much. This is the phenomena we saw in Tamil Nadu and West Bengal elections. For channels owned by political leaders, we have new guidelines and now if you show anything on your channel, we will go by rate card of your channel and will put that money in your own expenditure account.