If you are a resident of Thirumangalam district in Tamil Nadu, you probably received Rs. 5000 wrapped around your morning newspaper. This was a tactic used by the DMK party to woo the voters during the 2016 Tamil Nadu Assembly Elections. Along with the money, there would be a voting slip instructing the voter whom to vote for (kinda forced bribe). Well, this cash-for-votes trend is pretty common in Tamil Nadu where other than cash, voters are paid off with sarees, liquor, electronics, utensils etc. as well.
While such practices are rampant in the southern states, they are slowly making appearances in other parts of the country too. To tackle this issue, the Election Commission of India has formed ‘Flying Squads’.
Here’s a sneak peek into how these squads work and how technology – like CCTV and GPS – is used to fight this issue.
Once the crime is in the spotlight, the flying squads are alerted about it via a phone call. These squads have been created for all Legislative assembly constituencies to keep a check on politicians attempting to bribe voters during elections. Each flying squad consists of a magistrate, 5 armed police and a video camera technician. The squads are then deployed before the election and are active till the elections end.
The crime can be brought to light by alerting the 24X7 functioning control rooms by simply dialing a toll-free number. The caller or complainant is then identified and nearby authorities are sent to the reported location to mitigate the crime and make arrests. According to the Chief Election Commissioner of India, flying squads will ensure ‘free, fair and peaceful elections’ and monitor the money and muscle power during elections. Along with flying squads, Air Intelligence Teams and Surveillance teams have been formed to check on suspects smuggling cash and liquor at the airports as well.
Each squad is equipped with a jeep or SUV with cameras and GPS system fitted into it. When a complaint is received, the next step would be to reach the spot immediately, to catch the corrupt red-handed. But, initially, it did not work out like that. The entire process of coordinating with the squads was pretty time-consuming. Further, there were several charges like the squads avoiding going to the destination on purpose and thus letting the offenders get away with the action.
Thus, the election commission made use of technology to deal with this issue. The GPS and CCTVs installed, not only helped the election officials to keep a track on the movement and functioning of squads, but it also aided in them in alerting squads which were nearest to the location from where the complaint was received. Further, an SMS based complaint monitoring system was also enabled, wherein the squads received the complaints via a message to avoid any delay in taking action.
Following the information received, it’s now time for some action. The squad will then seize the items of bribe or other illicit items. They would also gather evidence and record statement of the witnesses and the persons from whom the items are seized. From seizing assets to conducting raids, from registering the cases to getting the corrupt arrested, these squads take the serious action against the accusers. Each piece of action has to be video recorded and copies are sent to the Election Cell. These squads work in coordination with the income tax and excise departments regarding the cash and other assets seized. Along with these officials, they are also responsible for conducting searches at the liquor shops to monitor bulk purchases. And will also regulate the illegal arms, liquor and drugs sale. They can also take action against the defenders of the Model Code of Conduct. For instance, during the Karnataka State elections, the squads filed FIR for misusing government vehicle, violating the loudspeaker norms, holding meetings without permission etc. While in another incident they seized at least 9 lakhs of cash, 19 liters of alcohol and fold worth 50 lakhs.
Technology and innovative methods can be used increasingly in India to make elections fairer and less corrupt. Kenya has been struggling with election rigging and frauds in its general election are now resorting to technology to combat the same. From using bio metric voter registration to eliminate ghost voters to building a software where the citizens can report any suspicious or violent activity instantly – the nation went all out to solve the election frauds.