Flying squad stops trucks with Rs.570 crore cash in TN

Chennai: Two days before the assembly elections in Tamil Nadu, the Election Commission's flying squad on Saturday morning stopped three trucks carrying a total of Rs.570 crore cash in the state's Tiruppur district, officials said. The money purportedly belonged to the State Bank of India and was being taken from Coimbatore, around 500 km from here, to Vishakapatnam in Andhra Pradesh. The election commission said that a separate committee of officials would determine the source of the cash, but a bank union leader said banks do transport heavy cash by road/train but faulted the SBI management for being careless in doing so during election time. Speaking to reporters, Tamil Nadu chief electoral officer Rajesh Lakhoni said initial inquiries reveal that the cash belonged to SBI but the security guards in the vans were carrying only copies of the documents and not originals, raising suspicion. They were also in plain clothes and not in their uniform. All India Bank Employees' Association (AIBEA) general secretary C.H.Venkatachalam told IANS that "nowadays such transport of heavy cash by banks by road/train is common". "Hard cash will be transported from locations where there is surplus to locations where there is a need," he said, adding wire transfers are not possible in case where hard currency is needed. Earlier banks used to deposit the surplus currency with the Reserve Bank of India (RBI). The RBI has shifted that responsibility to individual banks. However, Venkatachalam said that transporting several hundreds of crore of cash poses a big risk for the security guards and other officials accompanying the cash. "Curiously the banks insure only the cash and not the people who accompany the cash. We have been demanding that the people - security guards, driver and other officials - who accompany huge cash transports should also be adequately insured," he said. He also faulted the SBI management for being careless in transporting huge cash during the election time. "It is common knowledge that the election commission flying squads check and seize unaccounted cash. Ideally the SBI management should have informed the officials of election commission, state police and all the district administrations enroute about the transport and got appropriate permission in writing," Venkatachalam said.