The Lok Sabha election to the Vellore constituency in Tamil Nadu was cancelled on Tuesday by the Election Commission two days ahead of the polling following recovery of huge amount of cash allegedly from an associate of a Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam leader recently.
A government notification rescinding the polls said the EC was 'fully satisfied that the current electoral process in Vellore has been seriously vitiated on account of unlawful activities of certain candidates and some workers of the political party."
Perhaps, this is the first time election to a Lok Sabha constituency has been cancelled over use of money power.
The byelection to RK Nagar Assembly seat in Tamil Nadu was cancelled in April 2017 following similar seizure of huge cash, allegedly meant for bribing voters.
The cancellation of the poll, scheduled for April 18 along with 38 other constituencies in the state, evoked sharp reactions from the DMK which alleged it was an attempt by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to 'besmirch' the party using the Election Commission.
"It is a murder of democracy. Modi has planned to wreck the polls by allegedly misusing the Enforcement Directorate, CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation), Income Tax and the Election commission," DMK president M K Stalin told reporters in Tiruchirappalli.
DMK Treasurer Duraimurugan, whose son Kathir Anand is the party candidate in Vellore seat, told PTI that cancelling the poll was a 'murder of democracy'.
Allies of the DMK also condemned the cancellation of the poll.
Ruling AIADMK demanded that Anand be disqualified from contesting the poll instead of cancelling the election.
The EC notification said in the commission's considered opinion conducting the poll in Vellore in such a vitiated atmosphere would 'severely jeopardise the conduct of
free and fair election'.
Hence, the commission recommended cancelling the polls to the government which was accepted and poll for Vellore seat was annulled.
President Ram Nath Kovind issued the order rescinding the polls by amending portions of the original poll notification that called the electorate in Vellore to elect a member to the Lok Sabha.
The EC took the decision after the district police had filed a complaint against Anand as well as two party functionaries on the basis of a report from the Income Tax department on April 10.
Anand was charged under the Representation of the People Act for giving 'wrong information' in his election affidavit filed along with his nomination papers, the police have said. The other two, identified as Srinivasan and Damodaran, were booked under bribery charges.
A copy of the official notification cancelling polls in Vellore was released here by Tamil Nadu Chief Electoral Officer Satyabrata Sahoo.
On March 30, Income Tax officials had conducted searches at the residence of Anand's father Durai Murugan over suspected use of unaccounted money for electioneering, and seized Rs. 10.50 lakh which was alleged 'excess' cash.
Two days later, tax officials said they had seized Rs 11.53 crore from a cement godown belonging to a DMK leader's associate in the same district.
"Cash stuffed in cartons and gunny bags neatly packed for ward and division-wise distribution were unearthed," officials had said.
Murugan, however, had said he had not concealed anything. Questioning the timing of the Income Tax department's operation, he had alleged that the raids were a 'conspiracy' by certain political leaders who could not face them in the electoral arena.
Over 91% seized cash in Rs 200 denomination; all sourced from one branch: IT report
Over 91 per cent of Rs 11.53 crore seized by Income Tax Department in Vellore Lok Sabha constituency was in the denomination of Rs 200 and sourced from one bank branch in the district to allegedly bribe voters, a report prepared by the department's sleuths revealed.
The department's Chennai wing had submitted a report of this incident to the poll panel with a strong recommendation to cancel the election in Vellore as 'incriminating' amount of black money was being pumped into the constituency to 'lure maximum number of the voters' ahead of the April 18 election.
The damning report -- accessed by PTI -- said that out of the total Rs 11.53 crore cash seized by the tax department, 'only Rs 99 lakh cash was in the higher denomination of Rs 2000 and Rs 500, while 10.5 crore was in the smaller currency of Rs 200'.
"The cash was shifted from Kingston College (Durai Murugan Educational Trust), Vellore, to a cement godown in the night between March 29-30 due to botched up operation by the state police and revenue authorities.
"The political functionaries obstructed I-T teams for a long time and meanwhile shifted the cash and other material out of the premises.
"Based on the leads found and meticulous surveillance, the cash was found to have been secreted in a cement godown belonging to a functionary of the same party.
"All the cash (seized) was found stuffed in cartons and gunny bags, neatly packed for distribution ward-wise with computer-printed labels on the packets," the tax department report said.
The report has photographs of the seizures made and they were sent to Central Board of Direct Taxes and EC.
They show that currency wads were neatly packed and bore numerical markings in blue and red ink, indicating that the packages were meant for ward-wise distribution.
The report also said that the taxmen used an 'advanced currency-counting machine' and tabulated the entire cash bundles series-wise.
They then sent the cash bundles to the RBI to ascertain the source bank branch of the currency notes.
A senior I-T official told the news agency that the 'RBI found that the cash was sourced from a local Canara Bank branch cash chest'.
The two cashiers who issued the banknotes were grilled by I-T department sleuths for long hours. It then came to light that their senior manager, based in the regional office, had ensured that this huge amount in lower denomination is supplied to the branch and further released to an alleged DMK-linked functionary who was not even an 'income tax assessee'.
"The senior manager exploited the banking system and got the local branch such a big quantity of Rs 200 notes that was further released to the DMK-linked functionary," the I-T department official said.
The IT department has summoned the senior manager and the DMK candidate, Anand, for questioning.
"An I-T probe found that this cash was to be distributed in installments to lure voters in Vellore constituency," the official said.
The EC took the decision after the district police filed a complaint against Anand and two of his party's functionaries on the basis of a report from the I-T department on April 10.
Anand was charged under the Representation of the People Act for giving 'wrong information' in his election affidavit filed along with his nomination papers, police have said.
The other two, identified as Srinivasan and Damodaran, were booked on bribery charges.
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