RTI nails partyman who tried to bribe voters in Tamil Nadu

Information power

For the first time, the complainant party’s untiringly diligent use of the RTI to follow up on an FIR, alleging bribing of voters in the by-poll to the Thondamuthur constituency near Coimbatore, has paid off to set a landmark.

In the case,  Coimbatore Judicial Magistrate (II) Jeyapandiyan has sentenced Krishnamurthy from Perambalur district for disbursing cash to voters in Thondamuthur during the by-poll held there in August 2009.

Volunteers of the Kongunadu Munnetra Kazhagam (KMK), a political party formed in the state’s western belt by the OBC Kongu Velalars before the May 2009 Lok Sabha elections, had during the by-poll campaign thwarted the accused’s bid to disburse cash. On being caught, Krishnamurthy abandoned 150 covers—each containing Rs 200 in cash—and a cell phone as he fled the scene.

Krishnamurthy was campaigning for the ruling DMK-Congress alliance in Thondamuthur constituency, said M Lokanathan, the KMK’s state students’ wing secretary, who pursued this case.

The accused was from Perambalur district, the home-turf of DMK’s Dalit mascot and former Telecom Minister A Raja, who recently quit over the spectrum scam, he said.
Though the Congress candidate, N Kandasamy, backed by the DMK-led alliance won the by-poll from Thondamuthur, the KMK, amid widespread impression of voters being bribed to influence the poll outcome, had filed an FIR.

The KMK collected the cash covers and the cell phone and deposited them in the local police station. But it was only after great difficulty that an FIR was registered, Lokanathan said.

“Usually such FIRs are closed but we kept up the pressure relentlessly,” said Lokanathan, who received a copy of the Judge’s August 2010 order only very recently. The chargesheet was filed almost an year after the by-election and according to Lokanathan, “I filed applications under RTI Act three times to know the case status”. The RTI queries helped to take forward the legal process.

Initially, even the “bribe-money” handed over by the KMK volunteers to the jurisdictional police station was not submitted in the court, but “they did it later after my RTI query,” said Lokanathan, adding the FIR was filed under the rarely invoked section IPC Section 171-E (offence of bribery).

The cell phone, picked up from the scene of occurrence, helped to trace the accused and summon him to the court. Krishnamurthy, during the hearing, pleaded guilty to the charge. However, the court slapped a fine of Rs 2,000 on him.

Since the accused has been convicted for bribing voters in an Assembly by-poll, “we have now written to the district collectors of Perambalur, Coimbatore and the state Election Commission to remove Krishnamurthy’s name from the electoral rolls,” said Lokanathan.
 The court also ordered that the cash of Rs 30,000, recovered in this case, be deposited in the state treasury.

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