For a country like India, elections are the engines of democracy. Finances of candidates and the election machinery is the fuel that helps run this engine, as every other aspect of electioneering is connected with it.

While the government spent around ₹10.45 crore for conducting the first general elections in 1951-52, it spent more than ₹3,800 crore for conducting the 16th general elections to Lok Sabha in 2014. The government spent around ₹0.60 per elector in 1951-52 and around ₹46 per elector in 2014.

The expenditure per elector was below ₹1 for the first six general elections; it remained below ₹10 per elector for the 7th to 10th elections. It ranged between ₹10 and ₹15.54 per elector for 11th to 15th general elections and shot up to ₹46.40 per elector in the 2014 general elections.

Data is not available for the 2019 LS elections.

However, the High Level Committee Report on Simultaneous Elections in India 2024 — which cited the study by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice, in 2015 — said that simultaneous elections would reduce the massive expenditure incurred for the conduct of separate elections every year. “Presently, the cost of holding elections for Lok Sabha and State Legislative Assemblies of States and UTs has been pegged at ₹4,500 crore by the ECI,” the 2015 report noted.

In a written reply in the Rajya Sabha in 2019, the then Law Minister, Ravi Shankar Prasad, had stated that the entire expenditure on actual conduct of elections to Lok Sabha is to be borne by the Government of India and such expenditure on conduct of election to State Legislatures by the respective State governments, when such elections are held independently. Further, in case these elections are held simultaneously, the expenditure is borne by the State governments concerned and the Central government on a 50:50 basis. Respective State governments bear the expenditure towards law and order maintenance.

The Narrative Report of the General Election to Lok Sabha 2014 said that the highest expenditure was incurred on conduct of elections. This was followed by the amount incurred on deployment of forces to ensure free and fair election.

Giving details of the expenses incurred on conduct of elections, the report mentioned that the maximum amount of money was spent on transportation (21 per cent), followed by allowances for staff (15 per cent) and election material (11 per cent). Election material includes purchase, hiring of material and services and so on. Around 29 per cent was spent under other heads of expenditure.

An Election Commission press release issued by PIB in 2014 said that keeping devaluation of money owing to inflation into account, the rise in cost could be attributed to increased level of democratic activities. Many political parties came into being; more independents were now participating. It also mentioned various voter-friendly initiatives such as voter awareness campaigns, distribution of voter slips ahead of election date, use of Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) for the first time in General Elections 2014.

As Indians get ready to cast their votes in the forthcoming elections, it becomes apparent that behind every vote cast lies a story of financial investment, shaping the contours of India’s democratic journey.