Maharashtra EC sees shrinking role for cash in local body elections

BJP and Congress functionaries say the currency shortage caused by demonetisation would have a major impact on these elections in terms of 'reduced use of cash'

Abhiram Ghadyalpatil
Updated22 Nov 2016, 04:07 AM IST
As many as 27 district council or zilla parishads and 212 municipal councils in Maharashtra go to polls in a four-phase programme that will conclude on 8 January. Photo: Reuters
As many as 27 district council or zilla parishads and 212 municipal councils in Maharashtra go to polls in a four-phase programme that will conclude on 8 January. Photo: Reuters

Mumbai: Maharashtra’s election commission and some political parties expect demonetisation of high-value currency notes to lead to a significant decrease in the use of cash in local body elections across the state beginning from 27 November.

A senior state election commission official, who did not wish to be named, said the poll watchdog’s initial surveys have come up with “positive signals”.

“The inspections we have carried out so far in different parts of the state tell us that the role of cash in these elections may be reducing. The election staff have not reported suspicious movement of vehicles and candidates also seem to be tightly controlling their poll expenses,” said the official.

As many as 27 district council (zilla parishads) and 212 municipal councils in Maharashtra go to polls in a four-phase programme that will conclude on 8 January. These polls are significant for the four major political parties—the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), its ally Shiv Sena, and the opposition Congress and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP)—as they are a precursor to elections to 10 municipal corporations in early 2017.

BJP and Congress functionaries say the currency shortage caused by demonetisation would have a major impact on these elections in terms of “reduced use of cash, control over poll expenses, and a possible drop in voter turnout”.

“The cash transactions have become suspect and difficult due to currency shortage. Even regular transactions like paying for the campaign expenses have become difficult as most of these are typically cash transactions. At some places, we are operating on credit,” said a BJP minister on the condition of anonymity.

A state Congress functionary, who also spoke on condition of not being named, was critical of the move, saying it may result in a reduced voter turnout.

“People are queuing up for cash and the situation in rural areas is worse because of a smaller number of ATMs and lack of liquidity at district central co-operative banks. This may adversely impact the voter turnout because the situation is unprecedented,” said the Congress functionary.

Both the politicians, however, agreed that “cash flow” during the elections would be impacted.

“This time it is not only the election commission which is supervising the polls. There is a stricter vigil by police, tax officials, and the banks themselves,” said the BJP minister.

Trilochan Sastry of the New Delhi-based Association for Democratic Reforms does not agree that cash crunch would have a significant impact on the elections as far as the routine use of cash in any Indian election is concerned.

“The elections in Maharashtra begin from 27 November and go on till 8 January. But the deadline to get the old notes exchanged is 30 December. I think there is lot of time for political parties to use cash to woo voters and for voters to get those notes exchanged,” said Sastry.

The election commission official cited above, however, said this would be “easier imagined than done” because the Union finance ministry had declared that “any suspicious activity in Jan Dhan accounts or any spurt in cash deposits would be monitored and tracked down”.

Senior Mumbai-based journalist and commentator Prakash Joshi said it was naïve to expect demonetisation to reduce the role of cash in polls.

“The stakeholders in these elections, especially those who are experts at turning black money into white using different instruments, won’t be deterred by demonetisation. There is a reason why the Reserve Bank of India has banned co-operative banks from accepting old notes. Before this ban came in, those who wanted to make huge deposits have already used the co-operative banks. In elections too, these experts will find newer ways of deploying money,” Joshi said.

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First Published:22 Nov 2016, 04:07 AM IST
HomepoliticspolicyMaharashtra EC sees shrinking role for cash in local body elections

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