Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Rs 5 crore seized from roof of a bus in Trichy

CHENNAI: Crisp notes totalling Rs 5.11 crore kept in five travel bags on the roof of a private bus in Tiruchirappali was seized in the wee hours of today in the biggest haul of unaccounted money which has touched Rs 25 crore since polls were announced in Tamil Nadu last month.

The seizure was effected by a woman officer of the revenue department who climbed up the stationary bus in the dead of night after getting a tip off from police.

With elections just eight days away, the hard cash was suspected to be meant for distribution to woo voters in a state where money power is in full play.

The cash, kept in travel bags on the roof of the bus, was seized by Income Tax sleuths around 2 AM and nobody came forward to claim it, state chief electoral officer Praveen Kumar told reporters here. Elections, which were announced on March one, are due on April 13.

With this, the EC had so far seized around Rs 25 crore of unaccounted cash during intensified checks on vehicles and premises as part of measures to prevent use of money power in the polls. Several people have been also arrested.

The biggest single seizure earlier was made at Madurai last month, where Rs 3.5 crore was recovered.

The Income Tax department has launched investigation to ascertain the source of the money seized from the bus in Tiruchirapalli, about 350 km from Chennai.

"S Sangitha, a revenue development officer (RDO), got a call from a policeman at midnight that almost Rs 20 crore of illegal cash was stashed for illegal distribution in a vehicle. Sangitha reached the spot with her driver and began looking for the suspected vehicle," a top officer, involved in the later part of the operation, said.

She checked a Innova car but nothing was found from the vehicle. Then she reached Ponnagar near VVV theatre and found a stationary bus with registration number TN 46 K 2829 parked at an isolated place.

Sangitha, who had also summoned a CRPF constable posted nearby, then herself climbed atop the bus and found crisp currencies stuffed inside gunny bags, the officer said.

She then asked her driver to bring the bus to her office. The bags were unloaded and an Income Tax team then reached her office and counted the money. A total of Rs 5,11,27,000 was found, the officer said.

Praveen Kumar said no one had staked claim so far for the cash seized since last month.

Money power is in full play in Tamil Nadu ahead of the hotly contested elections and the chief election commissioner S Y Quraishi himself said it is a "big challenge."

"The flow of money in Tamil Nadu during elections is a big challenge. Cash seizures are not enough," he had said.

Amid fears that cash will be used to buy votes, the Election Commission has mounted a strict vigil.

The Income Tax department has formed around 70 teams to monitor movement of hard cash. The Election Commission had formed flying squads for carrying out searches on vehicles and premises in a bid to prevent the use of money power in the polls.

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