New Delhi: Regional parties across India spent more than the total funds collected by them in 71 assembly and three Lok Sabha elections over the past eleven years, according to a report released on Monday by the think-tank Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR).

According to the report, which examined the election expenditure statements of regional parties submitted to Election Commission of India (EC), 20 out of 49 parties in the Lok Sabha elections and 19 out of 37 parties in state assembly polls spent more than the funds they collected.

Nitish Kumar-led Janata Dal (United), or JD (U), for instance, spent 24.79 crore while its collections totalled 8.86 crore.

K. Karunanidhi-led Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) spent 15.17 crore on a collection of only 5.97 crore in the state assembly elections.

In the Lok Sabha elections, the DMK incurred a total expenditure of 54.18 crore—nearly 10 times its funds of 5.88 crore. Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress also overspent, as its expenditure on the polls came to 16.74 crore while its total funds were 14.29 crore.

Other parties that spent more than their funds include the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), Shironami Akali Dal (SAD), Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) and the Telugu Desam Party (TDP).

“Political parties start spending on their campaigns a year or two before the announcement of the election.Hence, there should be a provision for them to submit expenditure details from that time period for more accurate calculation of their expenditures," said Trilochan Sastry, a professor at the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore, and founder member, National Election Watch at ADR.

To be sure, political parties are supposed to submit their election expenditure statements— accounting for funds received between the date of announcement of elections and completion of elections; they have to disclose funds received in cash, cheques, demand drafts and in kind—within 75 days of assembly elections and 90 days of Lok Sabha elections to the EC.

According to the report, during the three Lok Sabha elections held in 2004, 2009 and 2014, Samajwadi Party (SP), Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), AIADMK, Biju Janata Dal (BJD) and SAD were the top five fundraisers, having collected 267.14 crore or 62% of the total funds declared by all regional parties. Out of these, Samajwadi Party incurred maximum expenditure at 90.09 crore followed by the AIADMK at 39.31 crore.

Interestingly, despite contesting just one Lok Sabha election in 2014, the AAP came second with 51.83 crore of funds.

As for the assembly elections, SP, AAP, SAD, Shiv Sena and the TMC were the top five parties, with total funds of 291.92 crore. Here again, the SP declared collecting the highest amount of 186.8 crore, and spending the most at 96.54 crore.

The report also provides a list of parties defaulting in submission of their election expenditure for the 11 years. The Nationalist Congress Party and the Communist Party of India were among the national parties that failed to submit their statements for two assembly elections while JD (U) and SP are the regional parties which haven’t submitted accounts for 15 and 11 assembly elections respectively.

The report recommended making it mandatory for all parties to submit their statements of expenditure within the prescribed time to the EC.

It also recommended that the details of donors be made public, irrespective of the amount donated, and that the shadow observers of the EC who monitor candidate expenditures do the same for political parties.

Analysts said that the report shows that elections in India are an expensive affair and that voters are never told about the money power involved in polls.

“Neither the direction nor the quantum of the money being received and spent is clear. What is the motive of parties behind concealing the identity of their donors? This indicates democracy is in the hands of crony capitalism," said Manisha Priyam, a Delhi-based political analyst.

In a landmark judgement of 2013, the Central Information Commission had ruled that political parties be brought within the ambit of the Right to Information Act (RTI).

This direction was opposed by government which approached the Supreme Court in 2015, saying this would adversely impact their internal working and political functioning. The issue is still under consideration of the apex court. “Political parties are public functionaries and must fall under scrutiny of RTI," added Priyam.

Leaders of the JD(U), SP, DMK, AIADMK and the TMC refused to comment on the issue.

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