NEW DELHI: The issue of 'cash garlands' has caused concerns to the Election Commission which will soon set up a high-level expenditure watchdog.
An "Expenditure Monitoring Division" is being created with senior officials of the Income Tax Department manning it, Election Commissioner S Y Quraishi said.
"The new division shall be in position in the next few months," he said, indicating the new mechanism will be in place before the assembly elections in Bihar due by November.
He said the new division will maintain the expenditure statements of parties and candidates and take follow up action. Noting that cash garlands is an "old phenomenon", he said the question of scale and magnitude has now changed.
"The money in cash garlands will come under the category of donation to political parties. Since there is no election right now, it does not seem to be in violation of the election law," Quraishi said.
At the same time, he said, this has to be accounted for by the political parties at the time of filing their returns to avail any tax benefit.
"We are concerned about use of money power, it needs to be controlled," the Election Commissioner said, suggesting that beyond a point the poll panel was helpless as "money changes hands secretly".
He said the Model Code of Conduct does help in curbing the menace of freebies like liquor, sarees and dhoties to lure voters. On the ensuing Bihar assembly polls, Quraishi said the EC has taken enough safeguards to ensure free and fair polls and noted that the people have became "more wiser".
"We do not anticipate any extraordinary measures or extraordinary problems which are different from the last two elections in Bihar," he said.
Talking in general, he said there is a need for increasing the percentage of polling by ensuring greater voter turnout, especially in urban areas.
As regards voter turnout, the metropolitan cities pose a matter of concern especially those areas where educated people live, he said.
The Commission recently set up an Information, Education and Communication Division to create awareness among voters about their rights and to enrol all eligible voters, he said. The issue of photo electoral rolls is also needed to be pursued as 23% of the estimated 70 crore voters are yet to be enrolled.
Similarly, the coverage of Electoral Photo Identity Cards stood at 82%, Quraishi said. PTI