Gold worth crores of rupees has been recovered in the 10 days since Lok Sabha elections schedule was announced, according to sources in the Election Commission (EC).
The seizure is much higher than the 2016 Assembly elections and 2014 Lok Sabha polls, they said.
Since March 10, when the poll schedule was announced, gold worth Rs 9 crore has been seized only in Kolkata. Across the state, gold worth Rs 16 crore has been reportedly recovered. Considering the huge amount of seizure, the Election Commission (EC) has appointed a large number of expenditure observers for West Bengal.
"As per EC orders, the onus should not stop with the seizure figures, but the money trail and actual perpetrators behind the consignment also need to be investigated," a source said. As per sources, gold worth Rs 2.8 crore and Rs 7.5 crore was seized during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and 2016 Assembly elections, respectively.
"In total, 44 expenditure observers have been appointed for West Bengal to monitor illegal cash and kind as well as other inducements being given to voters during the Lok Sabha polls," a senior EC official told The Sunday Express. The maximum number of election expenditure observers are drawn from the Indian Revenue Service (Income Tax), while others belong to the IRS (Indirect Tax and Customs). Sources said the EC is trying to identify expenditure-sensitive constituencies.
"An expenditure-sensitive constituency is identified as a seat that is prone to high expenditure and corrupt practices. According to EC's rules, for such a constituency, there will be two each of assistant expenditure observers, flying squads, static surveillance teams and video surveillance teams," an official said.
Meanwhile, Directorate of Revenue Intelligence officials have seized gold worth Rs 5.37 crore over a period of three days. Six people have been arrested by the agency.
"In three separate operations on March 25, 26 and 28, 16.34 kilograms of smuggled gold valued at about Rs 5.37 crore has been seized. In these DRI operations, six people have been arrested," said an official.
Officials revealed that on March 25, they received information about two persons, Mahesh Rai and Regina Farchinsungi alias Rita Maisek, staying at a hotel on Sudder Street, Kolkata. Officials had inputs that they had gold of foreign origin, which was smuggled into India from Myanmar through the India-Myanmar border in Manipur. Following a search, smuggled gold weighing 4.98 kg and worth Rs. 1.65 crore was seized from those people.
In a second operation, DRI sleuths identified one Isaac Lalpekhlua at Salt Lake and recovered from his possession smuggled gold weighing 3.32 kg and valued at Rs 1,09 crore, which had been smuggled from Myanmar through the Indo-Myanmar border in Mizoram.
In a third operation, which took place on March 28 in Hanspukur Lane in the crowded Bara Bazar area, DRI sleuths recovered foreign-origin gold weighing 8.04 kg and worth Rs. 2.63 crore, along with Rs. 75.3 lakh, which was the sale proceeds of smuggled gold. The gold and cash were recovered from a metallic vault and hand bag on the premises.
"Around the same time, one person came to the room carrying gold for delivery who was also apprehended. Three persons Raju Dutta, Chiranjit Dutta and Suman Saha have been arrested. The gold had been smuggled into India from Bangladesh.
Meanwhile , the CID on Friday night arrested one person and recovered lakhs of rupees in a joint operation with Kolkata Police. The accused has been identified as Raj Kumar Shaw. As per CID sources, they had received information about an illegal cash transaction without any valid document. Police recovered around Rs 40 lakh. An investigation has been initiated to find out if these money had any connection with the illegal expenditure related to election.