New Delhi: While lauding the Election Commission, the Supreme Court Friday said the poll panel was exceeding its brief by seizing unexplained money beyond Rs.2.5 lakh in election-bound Gujarat.
The apex court bench of Justice D.K. Jain and Justice Madan B. Lokur said: "It may be a laudable objective. Election Commission has done wonderful work in last few years. This seizure of unexplained money can`t be accepted."
The court said the seizure of unexplained cash of more than Rs.2.5 lakh affected the reasonable restrictions outlined in the instruction under the Election Expenditure Monitoring and violated Article 21.
It said it would be beyond the scope of the powers of the Election Commission.
The court said this in the course of the hearing of a petition by the commission challenging the Gujarat High Court order holding as ultra vires the instructions issued by the commission that empowered its officers to randomly and indiscriminately search any vehicle and seize cash found in the vehicle.
The court asked senior counsel Ashok Desai, who appeared for the commission, to seek instructions as to how these instruction of seizure could be modified.
The high court had held that the instruction directing the seizure of unexplained cash by assuming that it was meant to allure voters was violative of Article 21 of the constitution.
The high court had directed that Election Commission shall not implement the instruction contained in clause 4.7.1 of the instructions on the Election Expenditure Monitoring.
The court had also restrained the commission for undertaking any indiscriminate or random search or seizure of any vehicle, unless there was a credible information with the commission in writing.
The commission told the court that for 10 years, in every election, the Model Code of Conduct came into force the day elections were announced.
The commission said that after the issuance of notification Nov 17 for the first phase of elections, the "Election Commission had to be vigilant to ensure that the illicit money does not play a pernicious role in the conduct of free and fair elections".
The commission said that as a result of its 184 interceptions and seizures in Gujarat since elections were notified, Rs.23.30 crore was found of which, following verification, Rs.1.76 crore was seized by the Income Tax Department and another Rs.5 lakh by the police because of seizure being linked to a political party.
Besides this, the commission said it had seized 83 illegal arms, 156 cartridges, 390 grams of explosives, 3,10,028 litres of illicit liquor and 8,70,635 bottles of Indian-made foreign liquor and drugs.
"The above said goods could have a serious detrimental effect in the conduct of free and fair election", the commission told the court.