The upcoming Bihar Assembly polls, the first such exercise in the country to be held amid the Covid-19 pandemic, will cost the state exchequer an estimated Rs 625 crore, more than double the amount spent to hold the last state polls in 2015, and one-fifth of the total amount is estimated to be spent in ensuring safety arrangements for voters and polling personnel at booths as per guidelines to be issued by the Election Commission soon, officials in the state election department have said.
Compared to the 2015 polls, when around Rs 270 crore was spent on the exercise, there will be an estimated increase of 131.48% in the expenses of holding elections this year, thanks to the raging pandemic.
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The expenditure for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections was Rs 535 crore, as per state government records.
While the cost of holding Lok Sabha elections is borne by the central government, respective states foot the bill for holding Assembly elections.
According to officials familiar with the matter, the drastic rise in poll expenses this time is on account of safety measures like purchase of PPE kits for six lakh polling personnel, besides gloves and masks, and sanitizer for voters before they enter the booths.
The Election Commission of India (ECI) is also considering other proposals for safety of electors, including putting circles outside the booths where voters would be asked to stand before casting their vote to ensure social distancing.
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The expected expenditure on transportation of polling personnel and central armed police force (CAPF) is another factor for cost escalation. “This time, requirement of buses, trucks, SUVs and other vehicles will be much higher than previous elections to ensure there is no crowding inside vehicles ferrying polling personnel,” said an official engaged in poll preparations.
“This time, counting centres will be much bigger so that polling agents and poll personnel can maintain proper social distance during the counting process,” he said.
The increase in number of booths by 45%, with creation of 33,797 auxillary booths apart from 72,727 booths to cap the number of voters to 1000 or below in each booth for maintaining safety norms, is another reason behind cost escalation, sources said.
Bihar has a total 243 assembly constituencies.
“There is an assessment that Rs 2 crore-plus per assembly constituency would be spent on election-related activities. Besides, an additional Rs 125 crore will be spent on purchasing safety gears and implementing various measures for social distancing. The figure can even go up,” said the official.
The assessment of high cost to be incurred in the coming polls is also reflected in the budget 2020-21. While the initial budgetary provision for the state’s election department in this year’s budget was Rs 627 crore, an additional allotment of Rs 250 crore was made in the recently approved supplementary budget by the state government, based on the election department’s revised cost estimates.
This means the state government has made a total budgetary provision of Rs 877 crore, of which Rs 122 crore has been provisioned for payment to central security forces to be engaged for poll duty.
Bihar’s chief electoral officer H R Srinivasa refused to comment on the projected cost of Rs 625 crore. “Sufficient budgetary provisions have been made for the election expenditure. We have adequate funds,” he said.
Principal secretary (finance) S Siddharth said the state election department had been allotted funds as per demand for conduct of polls. “ The state government has made additional allotment in supplementary budget for election purposes,” he said.