The elections in Tamil Nadu may have to come end but the state’s Chief Electoral Officer Rajesh Lakhoni still does not sound satisfied, finding room for improvements. He is currently preparing for polls in Aravakurichi and Thanjavur constituencies where polls have been deferred by another three weeks. Despite allegations and criticisms from various parties that the EC was functioning in favour of the ruling party, it was all Income Tax and Information Technology-driven, leaving no place for manipulation. The Chief Electoral Officer has set the bar high in the conduct of elections in Tamil Nadu with record number of seizures. Lakhoni says he has now developed a prototype for conducting these elections, which can be further developed. <!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>In an interview with dna, he touches upon all this and speaks about the controversy surrounding the Rs 570 crore cash seized in Tirupur on Friday, May 13, which the SBI claims was their money.With parties complaining about the deferment of elections at Aravakurichi and Thanjavur, which they think, will cause undue advantage for the winner— what’s your take?Elections were deferred after cash was found by the Enforcement Directorate, election officials and the decision to postpone them was taken by the Chief Election Commissioner after discussions. A probe was also ordered by the election officials to carry out investigations in the wake of the rampant money distribution. Elections are a process and cannot be just struck down by the stroke of a sign just because parties want them to. Elections were due and were conducted as per rules.How far do you think you curbed the money power in elections?In a positive note, the CEO says we searched each and every candidates’ homes and booked cadres for bribing voters. At least 250 of them were booked. I don’t think this has ever happened in any of the elections and seizing Rs 105 crore cash in this elections is the maximum. All these years there were seizures in which most of them were returned, however, this year it was only at Rs 47 crore. A candidate from Thiruchendur , Mr. Sarath Kumar’s car was stopped and cash was seized by the election officials. All our officials worked swiftly and were constantly on the field to monitor cash for votes and other illegalities.Don’t you think spending by parties and candidates needs to still be tightened by the EC? Do you think there is a need for electoral reforms?Ever since the schedule was put up, each of the processes that were involved for the candidates to obtain permissions for campaigning — the chairs, the posters and the other sums involved — were all digitised with the special software that can be checked with the click of a button. There is no place for manipulation as everything has gone online, is digital and can be audited whenever required by the election officials concerned. The parties can never blame the EC for anything. I don’t think electoral reforms can be decided by the CEO as I am just a facilitator and decision has to be taken at the top level. Even when ads were made, I insisted they not lay emphasis on the CM candidate.There were a lot of criticisms from parties that you were acting in favour of the ruling government? How did you tackle it?Parties complained and brought me complaints. However, the Election Commission officials were all in the field and were doing their best to stop candidates from bribing the voters. The Election officials were acting on complaints that were provided to them by the voters as well as the candidates. Whenever candidates complained, the EC always did its best. I guess this was the first time when the Election officials, revenue, Income Tax, Information technology and central government were in the field to act on complaints.You took various initiatives to improve the voter turnout. However, it was still less when compared to the previous years and Chennai’s turnout was poor. Where do you think the problem was?Each and every initiative was taken up, such as roping in actors, (putting up) posters and short films, screening them everywhere, however the percentage has dipped. But it could also probably be duplication, as it was found some voters tend to be always having votes on two places— in their native town and place of work, and also the rains. This is actually a place where the EC needs to learn and measures are being taken up to study on how the voting dipped. The dip can also be attributed to three days holidays when several urban voters went to their native place to record their votes. A study will be conducted and there is always place for improvement, which the EC will take.Why aren’t elections conducted in a multi-phase manner in the state? Do you think it can help control money power?Election if held in a multi-phase manner will only increase the burden. Logistically and strategically, for long Tamil Nadu has not been a place where elections can be held in multi-phase. In other places, such as Bihar and West Bengal, elections are held in different phases, which are due to administrative and security reasons, whereas in TN a single phase is perfect. While carrying out single phase, the EC was able to seize Rs 105 crore whereas when you go for multi-phase it can prove as an advantage for parties who can study the entire approach in the first phase and possibly implement in the next.What’s the status on the Rs 570 crore that was seized by the EC at Coimbatore? Why is it still not released?The EC found the money being transported from Coimbatore to Vijayawada and the officials detained it near Tiruppur. When the EC tried to stop it at a distance, the vehicles did not stop. The EC was not in a position to handle such an amount and the Income Tax officials were brought in. The IT department investigation is pending and is currently at the top level of the finance department since the money was being transferred as per the orders of the RBI, the bank officials claimed. However, the documents had some discrepancies that led the EC to detain the money.Was it the EC that sent notices to parties on the funding for freebies? Was it satisfied with the replies given by the parties?The questions were raised after a Supreme Court judgment in 2013 directed the Election Commission to frame guidelines with regard to the contents of election manifestos, in consultation with all the recognised political parties. The order was passed on July 5, 2013, SLP(C) No 21455 of 2008. The (parties’) replies were sent to the CEC in Delhi and its pending with them.
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