India's 20 national and regional political parties spent more than Rs 5.96 billion or Rs 596.31 crore in travel alone in the financial year 2019-20, FactChecker's analysis of annual audit reports provided by the parties to the Election Commission of India (ECI) show. Of this, 86% was spent on election-related travel and 13% on general administrative travelling.

More than half the Rs 5.96 billion or 53.7% was spent by the Bharatiya Janata Party followed by Indian National Congress (24.3%), All India Trinamool Congress (7.3%) and Bahujan Samaj Party (6.3%).

The ECI, in its letter to the presidents, general secretaries and treasurers of all political parties, on November 19, 2014 said it was mandatory for all parties to submit details of their audited reports to the Commission. FactChecker analysed the total travel expenditure of 20 political parties for the last five financial years (2015-16 to 2019-20).

The deadline of submission for annual reports for all parties was extended to June 30, 2021, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the Association of Democratic Reforms (ADR).

The National parties analysed by FactChecker and which are recognised by the ECI include, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Indian National Congress (INC), Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), Communist Party of India (CPI), Communist Party of India (Marxist) or CPM, All In Trinamool Congress (AITC).

Whereas, the regional or state parties include, Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen (AIMIM), Janata Dal United (JDU), Janata Dal Secular (JDS), Akali Dal, All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), Shiv Sena, Lok Janshakti Party (LJP), Yuvajana Sramika Rythu Congress Party (YSRCP), Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS), Samajwadi Party (SP) and Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD).

While INC, NCP, CPI, AITC, CPM and BSP submitted their audit reports on time, BJP submitted it only after 21 days, according to ADR's analysis of income and expenditure of political parties 2019-'20 report. The parties, in the audit reports, have provided how much of the total travel spending went for administrative purposes and how much was spent on election travel.

Administrative Travel

Of the 20 parties who have submitted their yearly audit reports, 15 have consistently provided how much was spent on administrative travel in all five years (2015-'16 to 2019-'20). While AIADMK, YSRCP and TRS have not provided data for 2019-'20, LJP has not given this information for all the five years.

Again, BJP ranks the highest when it comes to travel and conveyance expenses for administrative purposes for the past five financial years. At more than Rs 2.383 billion, BJP accounts for 58.18% of the administrative travel costs incurred by 15 political parties. The ruling party spent more than Rs 90 crore for "travelling", "conveyance and vehicle running expenses" in 2017-'18 itself. This is followed by INC which spent more than Rs 88 crore, CPI(M) (Rs 26 crore), Akali Dal (Rs 17 crore), BSP (Rs 12 crore), Samajwadi Party (Rs 7 crore) and AAP (Rs 5 crore).

Election travel expense

Of the 20 parties that FactChecker analysed, only four have provided how much was spent on election travelling for all five years, namely, BJP, BSP, INC and Samajwadi Party. The rest of the 16 parties either failed to provide data or did not bifurcate election expenditure, despite having elections during the past five years.

Of the four parties, BJP spent Rs 558.2 crores or 57% -- the highest on election-related travel — in the last five financial years. However, BJP's audit reports for 2015-'16 and 2016-'17 has an inconsistency. While the 2015-'16 report shows the election travel expenditure to be Rs 84.69 crore, the 2016-'17 report says the party spent Rs 10.12 crore the previous year — this is a massive gap of around Rs 74 crore. [To calculate the overall travel expenditure, FactChecker referred to the 2015-16' report.]

The INC stood second in election-related travel spending with an expenditure of around Rs 245 crore in five years. This is followed by BSP (Rs 88 crore) and SP (Rs 75 crore).

It is to be noted that CPI(M), TRS, CPI and LJP have not bifurcated their election travel expenses for the last five financial years while parties such as YSRCP, JD(U), Akali Dal, AIADMK, NCP and AITC have not provided data for one or two years. Notably, Shiv Sena is the only party among the 20 analysed to have not provided travel data for three consecutive financial years (2017-'18 to 2019-'20).

(With inputs from Isha Bajpai)