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The men enforcing election raids and cash seizures

May 14, 2016 11:23 IST

'Initially, we had 48 teams, now it has been enhanced to 133 teams: that is for every 10 to 12 villages, there is a team that is working round the clock.'
'133 x 3, that is, given the 8-hour shifts.'
'They are monitored every hour, they are equipped with GPS -- everything is tracked live, real time, from the control room.'

The biggest news from Tamil Nadu is not the election due on May 16 or who will win, who will lose come counting day on May 19 but the volumes of illegal cash that is being seized across the state.

The amount is staggering, and has exceeded Rs 100 crore.

The raids and seizures are being carried out across Tamil Nadu's 32 districts, under the Election Commission's aegis, with the state police's active involvement.

Madurai district is where the infamous notes-for-votes formula was developed, in the Thirumangalam bye-elections of 2009.

Today, the district is under the watch of Superintendent of Police Vijayendra Bidari, an Indian Police Service officer from the 2005 cadre.

In an interview with Rediff.com's A Ganesh Nadar and Saisuresh Sivaswamy, Superintendent of Police Bidari explains how the raids are arried out.

What exactly is happening in Tamil Nadu with all the cash seizures? Suddenly it appears as if the state if awash with illegal cash!

IMAGE: Superintendent of Police Vijayendra Bidari confers with a colleague in the control room. All the squads are controlled from here.
After it gets the information, a squad can reach any given spot in the district within 10 minutes. All photographs: Saisuresh Sivaswamy/Rediff.com

The Election Commission is very serious about taking money power out of the picture, and has formed lots of flying squads and teams to ensure that public complaints are attended to in a very good manner. There are lots of restrictions on the use of money, and expenditure is controlled during the elections.

We are all on deputation to the EC because when the Model Code of Conduct comes into force, we go into deputation and come under the disciplinary control of the EC.

Everybody involved with the elections -- from the police constable to the revenue inspector -- is under the disciplinary and administrative control of the EC. So, we are all working according to the wishes of the EC.

Can you explain, from start to finish, how the whole raids and seizures happen?

We deployed nearly 48 flying squads and 48 static teams in this district as soon as elections were declared and they work round the clock in eight-hour shifts. The static surveillance teams are deployed in various locations where they check the vehicles.

They prevent flow of money and prohibited items, gift items, liquor. Lots of seizures were made -- we booked nearly 620 cases in this district alone, and more than 250 people were arrested from the time of declaration of the MCC till date. And the flying squads are mobile.

Static surveillance teams are also mobile, but they change their locations very frequently and are involved with vehicle checking. And they try to prevent the free movement of all these things. That's why lots of cash seizures have been made by the static surveillance teams.

We have a very good election control room, and any complaint that comes in goes there; all the flying squads are controlled from there. So the nearest squad is immediately alerted and they are able to reach the spot within 10 minutes -- they can reach anywhere in the district.

They have also booked lots of cases. Apart from just booking for cases of election expenditure, these squads are also looking into model code violations. Like the number of vehicles which can go in a campaign trail, whether there any banners, any disfigurement, or whether anybody is doing any function without the permission of the RO.

Everything that is done has to be with the permission of the RO so that they can account for the expenditure incurred by the party for that function. If they do it without intimating the RO, then the expenditure doesn't get accounted for. So flying squads are doing that work as well.

Apart from police officers, everybody is involved in enforcement; it is not that it is only their responsibility. Nearly half of the cases are registered by the police. So that's how it is going on.

One also reads about the police getting tip-offs. How does the team get these tip-offs? Who are the informants? Are they your regular ones? What is their motivation?

First of all, the phone numbers of all our officers are widely publicised. We have put out pamphlets which indicate that giving any cash or kind, both giving and receiving is an offence, a punishable one.

We have given our toll-free helpline numbers, the WhatsApp number, and of the local sub-division officer. So anybody can contact them. We have got lots of free flow (of information). That is one thing.

The second is open media. We are monitoring every local cable TV, (they are recorded) and anything which is violative of the Model Code of Conduct is registered.

Similarly, state channels are done at the state level, we do the local cable channels. We have a room only for that.

We have monitoring of the print media as well. Every newspaper cutting relating to electoral violation is put up. These are all open channels. Apart from these, we have got our intelligence and police machinery, local village level officials, village and ward awareness committees, whose members are in touch with the police.

Their work is two-fold. One is to increase the voting percentage, as the EC's motto is to have 100 per cent voting this time, the second is to report malpractices, violations of the model code etc. So they are being used both ways.

IMAGE: Everything can be tracked from a smart phone -- a list of critical zone, which zone is covered by whom and so on. Everything is tracked live.

But we specifically asked about the informants' motivation, which may not always be above board, right? They could also be settling local scores?

We always have our calls, and everything is not genuine. There are calls (as you suggested) like that. But we verify them.

If a call isn't genuine, then we let it go. But we take our chances, because out of 3, 4, calls there could be one genuine call.

Based on that, lots of good catches have been made. For instance, we made seized a large amount of cash from a long-distance bus. We got very specific information and we were able to catch that. So it is through this mechanism.

So, as we get lots of calls, we verify them. Luckily, some are genuine, but we cannot be sure, some may be motivated.

Reports of the cash seizures suggest that the majority of them involved the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam. Do we then infer from this that the other parties in Tamil Nadu are clean, or they are smarter in that they are not getting caught?

We cannot make such sweeping statements. We are more focussed on the offence part of it, the violations, we are neutral towards any political party, we have no opinion on it, you may infer as you wish.

That is also not true, majority-minority (volumes of seizures) may be true in my district, but I don't know the whole picture of what's happening, that's not a fair assessment, somewhere they may have caught people related to other parties also.

The reason I ask is that if the ruling party comes back to power, as may surveys indicate, there is a potential of settling scores, 'you fixed us, we will fix you' type retribution. That may be unnerving for those involved in the operations.

I told you, we are all on deputation to the EC, and we are doing everything as per law, nothing else; nothing above or below that. All officials are doing their duty; we are doing our duty, that's all.

Obviously, most of the money that is seized must be 'black,' since it is mostly in cash and in bulk. Have you been able to trace the source of this money?

Whenever cash is seized, it is brought to the notice of the expenditure review committee. They find out whether -- it is black money or genuine, has transaction records. They take a call usually within one week and decide if it is genuine or not.

If it is not genuine, they bring in the income-tax department which investigates the matter further. If it is genuine, it is released, we don't hold it back.

At the time of seizure, one is given annexure 57 that tells them who they have to approach after the seizure, their address, everything is given. If they don't go, they get called.

I asked about the black money, have you been able to trace its origin, where it is coming from, how it was generated? That is usually an investigation. Even otherwise, as a senior police officer, you must have a view on it?

Black money is not a police concept, the income-tax people would be the right person for you to ask this question, as the criterion is whether tax has been paid on it or not. I can only say that we have made many seizures and referred them to the income-tax department; they take a call on how genuine or otherwise it is.

How many teams are involved in these raids and seizures, the number of personnel?

Initially, we had 48 teams, now it has been enhanced to 133 teams: that is for every 10 to 12 villages, there is a team that is working round the clock. 133 x 3, that is, given the 8-hour shifts.

Apart from that, we have 24 quick-response teams or QRTs, who have the support of the central paramilitary forces and they are located in almost every area of the district. If there is any important information, they reach the spot.

The flying squads now also have an income-tax person on the team. Apart from this, there are expenditure observers with assistants who come from central departments -- not from the state.

So how many people overall?

For the elections? Nearly 20,000 people will be used.

I am talking specifically of the flying squads, the cash seizures teams, etc.

The number is not something that can be revealed. It is a huge number that is deployed overall.

One politician we were talking to said that election time is actually a good time to return to the people the money that had been taken from in the first place through bribes, etc. Do you have a view on that?

We are duty-bound, we are bound by our laws, we are instruments of the EC; we have to enforce the law as it is.

Today, in fact, a receiver of money, a woman was arrested. We are going to enforce the law; we are not looking at any other nitty-gritties, the philosophy (behind it) etc.

IMAGE: SP Bidari listens into a call at the control room. He maintains that he and his team are there to enforce the law and not any other nitty-gritties.

There have also been cases of some genuine businessmen whose money has been seized. What is the recourse in such cases?

There is a proper opportunity, only thing is, that people should have proper records of the cash. Even if it is ATM cash amounting to crores, they should carry records for the same.

The people who are caught are either not carrying records, or are not able to explain (the source of the money).

You make the thing sound so random, but there must be way you are going about it, like a general and his troops. Can you tell us what it is?

(laughs) Yes, this is all highly-planned, not random. The teams all have a specific sector, they are given a specific map where they are supposed to go, there is a route chart, there are records of their movement, there is a verification officer.

They are monitored every hour, they are equipped with GPS -- everything is tracked live, real time, from the control room. Such as, how long they take to reach after a call is received -- we are tracking them live.

Everything is on my mobile phone, I can track everything on it -- which zone is covered by whom -- apart from that, we have a specific chart, a list of critical areas mentioning the actual problem, the cases form the past, which community is a majority, which one is a minority, which community is vulnerable, party details, what is the problem there, who are the problem-makers and so on.

Elections are very sophisticated, well-organised,

So are the malpractices, they are getting more and more innovative. You come up with a means of preventing it, but they find an escape route, a new modus operandi to beat the law.

Actually, we are following a two-pronged strategy. There is something known as SVEEP -- Systematic Voter Education about Ethical Practices, that is going on to educate people. The second part is taking offensive action by carrying out seizures, etc.

Some balance (between the two) has to be worked out. We get information about whatever people are doing, we somehow get to know.

A Ganesh Nadar and Saisuresh Sivaswamy in Madurai
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