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|January 31, 1998|
The Rediff Election Special/N Bhaskara Rao
LS poll will cost Rs 46 billion
The general election will cost the nation a whopping Rs 46 billion.
Besides a mindboggling poll expenditure of Rs 31.50 billion, the nation will suffer a productivity loss of Rs 15 billion -- assuming that only one working day is lost for exercising one's franchise. This is revealed by a study conducted by the New Delhi-based Centre for Media Studies which I head.
Quick calculations show that as much as Rs 50 will be spent on each voter. And, if the multitudes of non-voters are excluded, the expenditure incurred on every vote polled would be Rs 90.
Nearly 40 per cent of that sum is spent by some government agency or the other at the Centre or in the states, mostly directly. A little over 20 per cent is spent on campaigning (vehicles, aircraft, fuel, workers, etc).
An equal percentage is spent on ballot papers, ballot boxes and poll booths. Another one-fifth goes by the way of expenditure on poll personnel including those involved in poll operations.
Compared with the 1996 Lok Sabha election, the cost has spiralled by more than 100 per cent -- between Rs 21 and Rs 22 billion being the cost of the previous election.
Interestingly, the 1996 poll registered a fall in expenditure -- to the tune of Rs 1 billion -- thanks to then chief election commissioner T N Seshan's vigilance.
Seshan's grand design of recording the entire election campaign on video, however, had cost the government between Rs 260 and Rs 280 million.
An equal amount would spent in the 1998 election on Doordarshan's election promotion work.
At this rate, the cost of Indian elections over a five-year period -- assuming a normal poll Lok Sabha and state assembly election schedule -- would be nearly Rs 100 billion.
This, however, does not include expenditure on the elections to panchayats and functional bodies like corporations and trade unions.
What is worse, the Indian election seems to be drawing heavily from the 'parallel economy', with nearly 50 per cent of the Rs 31.50 poll expenditure in 1998 being 'unofficial money'.
Consider, for example, what was declared as expenditure by four candidates studied in four different VIP constituencies at the end of the 1996 Lok Sabha election. It was between Rs 139,000 and Rs Rs 314,000, when the official limit was Rs 450,000 per candidate.
In one these constituencies, an unsuccessful candidate moved the court against the winner, claiming the latter had spent at least Rs 4 million. But then it is well known that a good deal of poll expenditure goes undocumented.
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