Election Commission of India (ECI), Elections, India, Stories
 

Data: While ECI Announced Record Seizures, Data Published by Poll Body About Seizures is Incomplete & Inconsistent

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In a press release dated 18 May 2024, the ECI announced that in the 2024 Lok Sabha election cycle, it is poised to mark the highest ever seizures of inducements in the history of Lok Sabha elections in India. However, review of historical data published by the ECI about seizures indicates that the data is incomplete & inconsistent.

In a press release dated 18 May 2024, with about 3 weeks still left before the completion of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, the Election Commission of India (ECI) announced record-breaking seizures of inducements during the 2024 (18th) Lok Sabha elections, as anticipated earlier. Alongside this announcement, ECI also published data on the types of materials seized, their quantities, and values. According to this data, between 1 March 2024, and 18 May 2024, a total of Rs. 8,889 crores worth of inducements were confiscated, representing a staggering increase of over 155% compared to the Rs. 3,475 crores seized during the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Out of the total 8,889 crores, drugs/narcotics alone accounted for 45% with their seizures worth 3,958 crores.

In addition, in a press conference dated 3 June 2024, the ECI said that about Rs. 10,000 crores worth of seizures were made during the complete election period – 1 March 2024 to 2 June 2024 of the 18th Lok Sabha elections. While ECI has not published the complete data with state-wise break up of seizures as yet, it has, however, values of different types of seizures made, such as Cash, Liquor, Precious Metals, and Freebies.

In its earlier press release dated 15 April 2024, ECI has also reported that country-wide seizures amounting to Rs. 7,502 crores were reported for January and February 2024, the months preceding the elections. Altogether, seizures worth Rs.  17,000 crores were reported during the 18th Lok Sabha elections.

Against this backdrop, as part of our ongoing coverage of the 18th Lok Sabha elections in 2024, we delve into the concept of seizures, the procedural intricacies of seizure and disposal, the authorities responsible, and the insights gleaned from the seizure-related data. 

Methodology and Notes

  • This data for the story is collated from Dataful, which curated the seizure data. 
  • The analysis of the 18th Lok Sabha elections in the story is limited to the seizures data published up to 18 May 2024.

What is a Seizure and what can be Seized?

The term ‘Seizure’ has not been defined anywhere by ECI or in any legislation in the context of Elections in India. However, it can be inferred from the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) note of ECI that seizure denotes confiscation of various materials, including liquor, cash, drugs, precious metals (such as gold and silver), arms, freebies (like laptops and cricket kits), and others. These items are viewed as tools utilized to influence voters to either support or refrain from supporting a specific candidate or party, thereby compromising electoral integrity.

Although lacking legal backing akin to the Model Code of Conduct (MCC), the SOP on seizures holds binding authority as it has been formulated by the ECI under the powers vested in it by Article 324 of the Constitution of India.

According to the SOP, during inspections, cash exceeding Rs. 50,000 and goods valued at over Rs. 10,000 which are carried by the contesting candidate, his agent, party worker, etc., and suspected of being intended for voter inducement, are subject to seizure. 

However, the SOP outlines certain exemptions for carrying Cash. Star campaigners or party functionaries are permitted to carry cash up to Rs. 1 lakh, provided they obtain a certificate from the treasurer specifying the intended exclusive personal use or other specific end uses for the money. Further, even in cases where a vehicle is found to be carrying Rs. 10 lakhs or more, the SOP stipulates for non-seizure of the same cash subject to the condition that there is no suspicion of any criminal activity or association with candidates or their affiliates; but an intimation is sent to the Income Tax Department (ITD) in such cases.

Who can Seize and what are their Duties?

To inspect and seize material, including Cash, the SOP mandates the constitution of two teams, namely the Flying Squads (FS) and Static Surveillance Teams (SST). Each assembly constituency consists of three or more FS and SSTs. While the FS comprises a team of officials from different government authorities and is headed by a Magistrate, the SST comprises an Executive Magistrate and 3 to 4 police personnel. In the case of Expenditure Sensitive Constituencies (ESCs), the SOP stipulates for deployment of more FSs and SSTs, depending on the need. 

The SST’s duties encompass a range of crucial tasks, including manning checkpoints, intercepting, and seizing illicit goods, filing First Information Reports (FIRs) against offenders, and raising public awareness about the legal consequences of bribery, among several others. On the other hand, FS is responsible for addressing complaints regarding threats, intimidation, and the illicit movement of goods. Both teams are required to perform these duties throughout the election period.

Who happens to the Seized Items?

To prevent public inconvenience and facilitate fair treatment, the SOP mandates the constitution of a committee, which comprises three District Officers, to suo-motu review and adjudicate on cases involving seized cash or goods. If no FIR is registered, the Committee orders the release of the money. Additionally, in these cases within no FIR, the committee is mandated to adjudicate and dispose of all of them within a period of not beyond a week from the polling date. 

In other cases where the FIRs have been filed, the offences shall be proceeded against by the Police according to the provisions of respective laws, such as the Indian Penal Code (IPC), Representation of Peoples Act (RPA), and others.  

Quantity of Seizures Increased Steeply 

The seizure data published by the ECI includes details of the quantity and value of various materials, including cash, confiscated during each election period. 

In terms of the quantity of material seized, the ECI provides state-wise totals for liquor, drugs/narcotics, and precious metals. Analysis of this data reveals that the total quantity of confiscated liquor increased from 161 to 191 lakh litres between the 2014 and 2019 elections. Remarkably, in the 2024 elections, this figure skyrocketed to 540 lakh litres, showing an increase of 182% from 2019. 

In 2014, states like Punjab, West Bengal, Gujarat, and the Union Territory of Daman and Diu led with 65, 22, 15, and 15 lakh litres of seized liquor, respectively. By 2019, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal, and Uttar Pradesh emerged as the top four states, with 44, 34, 17, and 16 lakh litres of seized liquor respectively. In 2024, Karnataka claimed the top spot with 147 lakh litres of confiscated liquor, followed by Rajasthan and Maharashtra with 62 and 44 lakh litres, respectively.

Similar to liquor seizures, the quantity of drugs/narcotics seized has also shown a significant increase from 2014 to 2019; data for 2024 has not yet been released. The total quantity of these substances increased from 17 thousand kilograms (Kgs) in 2014 to 80 thousand Kgs in 2019, marking a 369% increase. 

Punjab, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, and Andhra Pradesh accounted for 8.4, 4.3, 1.5, and 1.02 thousand Kgs of seized drugs/narcotics, respectively, together contributing to 89% of the total seizures in the year 2014. In 2019, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Punjab took the lead with 24.9, 20.5, 15.7, and 9.6 thousand Kgs seized, respectively, accounting for 88% of the total seizures.

The data regarding the quantity of seized metals is limited, with information only available for 2019, totalling 6,211 kilograms for that year. However, the overall trend indicates a significant increase in the number of seizures in the case of liquor and drug/narcotics confiscations.

The Monetary Value of Confiscations show a steep increase

Similar to data on the quantity of materials seized, the data on the total value of materials published by ECI is also limited. Except for Cash, the total monetary value of none of the other materials confiscated, such as Drugs/Narcotics, Freebies, Liquor and Metals, has been provided for 2014. All of these have been provided with data only for the years 2019 and 2024. 

The analysis of this data shows that the total cash confiscated was Rs. 299 crores, Rs. 844 crores and Rs. 849 crores respectively during 2014, 2019 and 2024. The total value of materials seized, also increased between 2019 and 2024. The value of drugs/narcotics seized increased from Rs. 1279 crores in 2019 to Rs. 3,958 crores in 2024 while the value of freebies seized increased from Rs. 60 crores in 2019 to Rs. 2006 crores in 2024. The value of liquor seized increased from Rs. 304 crores in 2019 to Rs. 814 crores in 2024.

The value of metals confiscated in 2024 is Rs. 1260 crores, while it was Rs. 987 crores in 2019. It has to be noted that the value of seizures in 2024 could be much higher as two more weeks of the election period are left as of 18 May 2024.

In 2014, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Punjab, and Maharashtra emerged as the top four states with seizures valued at Rs. 124 crores, Rs. 40 crores, Rs. 36 crores, and Rs. 24 crores, respectively, together accounting for 75% of the total seizures. In 2019, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Delhi, and Punjab took the lead with seizures valued at Rs. 952 crores, Rs. 553 crores, Rs. 430 crores, and Rs. 286 crores, accounting for a combined share of 64%. So far in 2024, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Punjab, and Maharashtra occupied the top four positions with seizures valued at Rs. 1461 crores, Rs. 1133 crores, Rs. 734 crores, and Rs. 635 crores, respectively, together accounting for 45% of the total seizures.

Limited & Incomplete Data is published by ECI

Unlike other election-related data published by the ECI, which dates back to the 1st Lok Sabha and all the Assembly elections, and is comprehensive, data on seizures has only been made available since 2014. Even this post-2014 seizure data lacks consistency in terms of what is disclosed. As mentioned earlier, the data relating to various aspects of seizure, both in quantity and value, is not published even for the latest years 2019 and 2024. To add to this, while the 2014 data included details such as the number of illegal firearms, ammunition seized, and the number of individuals against whom cases were registered or actions were taken, similar information was absent in 2019 and in the ongoing 2024 elections. It is time for the ECI to publish and provide in the public domain comprehensive data on seizures on a real-time basis during the election period. Such disclosures would strengthen and enhance electoral transparency. 

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