EC ropes in expenditure agents to track poll expenses

New Delhi: For the first time in the country`s electoral history, candidates trying their luck at the hustings will be aided by `expenditure agents` as the Election Commission recently notified their inclusion to keep track of all poll-related expenses of candidates.

The EC had made the changes in the Representation of the People Act to include this new entity into the election charter, as part of the slew of new measures it has introduced to curb the use of black money in elections.

"An expenditure agent, however, is not mandatory for a candidate. A candidate may or may not chose to keep such an aide," sources said.

The decision was taken by the EC after representatives of political parties met the Commission here on March 9 and requested it for inclusion of one more agent, apart from the polling agent, who can exclusively look after all the work related to poll expenditure of a candidate fighting Parliamentary or Assembly elections.

The EC will soon notify the order and send it to all recognised national and state political parties and the Chief Election Commissioners of states.

"The EC has brought out a slew of measures for election expenditure since last year. Candidates now have to maintain exclusive shadow registers and keep updating them regularly.

They also have to keep a track of all minute details when it comes to expenditure related to elections. The representatives of political parties hence asked the EC to allow them to appoint a person to perform all these heavy duty tasks, which the EC has now agreed to," sources said.

The candidate will have to authorise his `expenditure agent` through a notarised affidavit and inform the same to the Returning Officer of his constituency. Two relief `expenditure agents` can also be kept as `backup` in case the first one is unable to perform his or her duties due to unavoidable circumstances, sources said.

The expenditure agents, to be appointed for the maiden time in the forthcoming polls of West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Assam and Puducherry, will exclusively handle the funding and expenditure of the candidate and liaise with the expenditure observer and the Returning Officer appointed by the EC.

Till now, only one person called a polling agent was allowed to function on behalf of a candidate during his or her electoral campaign. The polling agent will perform his duties as always even after introduction of expenditure agents.

An expenditure agent, according to the EC, is defined as an individual who acts as the candidate`s "representative at every polling station to watch his interests." A polling agent is also defined similarly.

The EC, which had activated an Expenditure Monitoring Cell with a senior IRS (Income Tax) officer at command before the Assembly polls in Bihar last year, has also roped in the entire investigation machinery of the Income Tax department in the states and UT going to the polls to keep a check on the expenditures of political parties and candidates.

CEC S Y Quraishi had recently made a strong pitch for providing tax benefits on donations only to those political parties which prove their strength at the hustings, on the ground that exemptions on such funds have led to the mushrooming of several new parties.

Observing that almost 75 to 80 per cent of registered political parties have not participated in any elections for past several years, the CEC said that although the Commission has the power to register political parties, it does not have the power to de-register them.