After election officers seized Rs 570 crore in cash from three containers in poll-bound Tamil Nadu in the wee hours on Saturday, the State Bank of India said in the evening that it was the bank’s legitimate cash.
In a statement, the SBI said its officials were ferrying Rs 570 crore after the Reserve Bank of India asked them to, to address a temporary cash shortage in Andhra Pradesh.
‘To address a temporary cash shortage in Andhra Pradesh, the RBI has authorized transfer of Rs 570 crore from our currency chest in Coimbatore main branch to our special currency administration branch in Visakhapatnam.
‘As per RBI instructions, our Coimbatore main branch released the treasure to the authorised SBI personnel, duly escorted by a team of Andhra police. But the convoy carrying the cash was stopped by the EC (Election Commission) officials enroute and brought to Tiruppur collectorate for further scrutiny,’ the SBI statement said and termed the EC action as ‘erroneous’.
The bank said its officials in Chennai, Coimbatore and Tirupur are providing all support and clarifications to the EC authorities and are hopeful of quick resolution and release of cash.
‘We reiterate once again this movement of currency is duly authorised by the Reserve Bank and has all necessary approvals. The movement is in line with the RBI currency management policy of moving cash from one currency chest to other where cash is needed,’ the SBI said.
In the wee hours on Saturday the EC officials took into its custody three trucks carrying Rs 570 crore during a routine check at the Perumanallur-Kunnathur Bypass in Tirupur district in the run-up to the polls.
Tamil Nadu and the neighbouring Kerala and Puducherry are going to polls on Monday and through the campaign period, the EC has confiscated more than hundred crore in cash at various places in Tamil Nadu.
The EC officials said they took the vehicles into custody as the personnel accompanying the containers/trucks did not show all the necessary documents and those in the escorting cars refused to stop.
"Containers escorted by three cars did not halt, but officials chased them and stopped them near Chengapalli. A check revealed the amount, kept in many boxes, inside the containers,” the police said, adding the men in cars claimed that they were Andhra policemen but were not in uniform.
When the police and the EC officials asked as to why they had sped away without stopping, they told the police they feared it was a robbery attempt and that they were unaware that the officials were from the election department.
In Delhi, the Election Commission also said earlier in the day that it was ‘prima facie suspect cash’ as no agency or organisation had come forward to claim it.
“Prima facie it is suspect cash as no agency or organisation has come forward to claim it,” an EC officer said.
“The money is not seized. The vehicles have been detained for verification,” Tamil Nadu Chief Electoral Officer Rajesh Lakhoni said.
A set of documents had been produced by the claimants even as a multi-disciplinary team of income tax investigation officers, senior IAS, police and IRS observers along with officials of banks were verifying the documents, he said.
“As the amount involved is huge it may take another 24 hours to complete,” Lakhoni told reporters at Chennai.
“On being asked (by electoral authorities) to stop, the vehicles speeded up leading suspicion and their stoppage,” he said.
Even as bank officials attempted to get the money released, Tirupur District Collector, Jayanthi, who is also the election officer, formed a high-level committee, headed by expenditure observer Uday Srinivasan to determine the source of the cash.
Later, a release from Lakhoni said the vehicles were followed up and intercepted when they were filling fuel in a petrol bunk.
Besides appointing observers to look into the matter, the RBI was also being consulted on the matter, he said.
Meanwhile, considering the quantum of cash involved, the EC has instructed that the vehicles must be kept properly cordoned/fenced and public should not be allowed access near close vicinity, that the area should be kept well-lit and if required, Tamil Nadu Electricity Board should be alerted against any power-cut, he said.
Generator set must be kept ready as standby and the place should be kept under CCTV monitoring and all action taken near the vehicles must be video graphed, the CEO said adding all operations must be carried out in transparent and secure manner and the Expenditure Observers shall supervise the entire premise.
“The DEO has informed that the committee is likely to conclude verification by tomorrow evening and same shall be placed before the Election Observers,” he added.
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