Polling in Tamil Nadu's Vellore Lok Sabha constituency has been cancelled, the Election Commission said on Tuesday, April 16, following the seizure of at least Rs 12 crore in cash from a DMK leader's associate in raids by Income Tax officials earlier this month.
The confirmation came after President Ram Nath Kovind accepted the EC's plea to cancel voting in Vellore. Vellore was scheduled to go to polls on April 18 with 38 other parliamentary constituency seats in Tamil Nadu as part of the second phase of general elections.
"Accepting the recommendation of Election Commission dated April 14, 2019, the President is pleased to rescind election to Vellore Parliamentary Constituency, Tamil Nadu to elect a member to Lok Sabha," an official statement said.
Reacting to the development, DMK President MK Stalin said it has been done to defame his party, while DMK Treasurer Duraimurugan, whose son DM Kathir Anand is the party's candidate from the Vellore constituency, called it a "murder of democracy". On the other hand, senior AIADMK leader and Tamil Nadu Fisheries Minister D Jayakumar demanded that the Election Commission disqualify the candidate indulging in such malpractices.
The IT officials had found bundles of cash stuffed in cartons and gunny bags in the cement warehouse belonging to a DMK man considered close to the party treasurer on April 1.
According to a senior IT official, the cash, amounting to about Rs 12 crore, was for distribution ward wise, with the packets having division and ward numbers written on them.
According to an Election Commission statement, search and seizure operations were carried out on March 29-30 at the residence of Duraimurugan and his son Anand and at Kingston Medical College, run by the Duraimurugan Educational Trust.
It, however, said that the search team observed that evidently there was a removal of material including the control panel of the CCTV as well as hard disks of computers.
"Further discreet surveillance resulted in the confirmation that a large amount of cash and other incriminating material had indeed been shifted out of the college premises while the teams were being denied entry," the statement said.
Citing a report submitted by the IT Department, the poll panel said based on the intelligence gathered during the surveillance, certain premises of close associates of Anand and their relatives were identified.
Fresh searches were carried out on April 1 at the residence and other premises of Damodaran, brother-in-law of DMK functionary Srinivasan, at Katapadi in Vellore and the money found.
Apart from the money, loose sheets with details of ward-wise breakup of voters and documents related to Kingston Engineering College were found.
Srinivasan claimed the ownership of the Rs 11.48 crore and in his statement to Income Tax officials, said that the cash was meant to influence voters in favour of DMK's candidate.
The poll panel said that the fact that the claimant does not have any explained source of income and that the documents found with the cash pertaining to an institution run by the family of the DMK candidate lay bare the nexus.
Special Expenditure Observer, Madhu Mahajan, in her report, said the searches had unearthed a systematic design to influence voters through inducements and that such activities come under the ambit of "corrupt practices" as per Section 123 of the Representation of People Act.
She was of the opinion that the situation is not conducive for the conduct of free and fair elections, the Election Commission said.
Tamil Nadu's Chief Electoral Officer Satyabrata Sahoo, in his report on April 12, also said that the cash seizure along with evidence in the form of computer printouts detailing proposed assembly segment, ward and booth wise money distribution suggests a clear-cut pattern and design induce the electors at a large scale vitiating the electoral environment.
The Election Commission said that based on all this, it was "fully satisfied" that the current electoral process in Vellore "has been seriously vitiated on account of unlawful activities on behalf of the candidate, Anand, and some members/ workers of the political party in question".
"In the Commission's considered opinion, allowing the current electoral process to proceed and conducting the poll in the constituency on April 18, 2019, as scheduled, in such a vitiated atmosphere would have severely jeopardised the conduct of a free and fair election," the statement said.
CEO Sahoo, however, noted that polling has been cancelled only for the Vellore Lok Sabha seat and the by-elections to Ambur and Gudiyatham Assembly seats would be held as scheduled on April 18.