If the amount donated is below Rs 20,000, parties need not reveal the source of the funds. Three quarters of the funds garnered by them in recent years fall into this category.

Interactive chart
Charts: TR      Data source: ADR and National Election Watch
(Parties are Congress (I), BJP, BSP, NCP, CPI and CPI (M); second chart does not include CPI)

A large chunk of the funds raised by the six national political parties between 2004-05 and 2011-12 came from sources that have been described as 'unknown', reveals a recent analysis made by Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) and National Election Watch.

The bulk of the funds national political parties in India garner are from sources that they are not obliged to reveal because the donation falls in the below Rs 20,000 range, said an analysis made by the two organisations. The parties included in the analysis were Congress (I), BJP, BSP, NCP, CPI and CPI (M) and the data relating to known donors was sourced from contribution statements submitted by them to the Election Commission of India between 2004-2005 and 2011-12. The 'unknown' source income figures were derived from the IT returns filed by the parties.

Of these parties, the CPI was the only one whose income from unknown sources - Rs 1.47 crores, was less that the funds garnered from known sources - Rs 8.54 crores.

The analysis reveals that known donors including electoral trusts accounted for only a fraction of the total income of these parties totalling Rs 4,895.96 crores during this period. After taking into account income from other known sources such as sale of assets, membership fees, bank interest, sale of publications, party levy, sale of coupons etc, about three-quarters of their income fell into the 'unknown' category.

"Since a very large percent of the income of political parties cannot be traced to the original donor, full details of all donors should be made available for public scrutiny under the RTI. Some countries where this is done include Bhutan, Nepal, Germany, France, Italy, Brazil, Bulgaria, the US and Japan. In none of these countries is it possible for 75 per cent of the source of funds to be unknown, but at present it is so in India," said an ADR statement.

The Stockholm‐based International Institute of Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) had stated, "India is … among a mere 10 per cent of countries in the world to allow either political parties or candidates to receive anonymous donations’.

Six electoral trusts had made contributions totalling Rs 105.86 crores - mostly to the Congress (I) and BJP - during this period: General Electoral Trust of the Aditya Birla Group, Electoral Trust of Tata Sons, Bharti Electoral Trust of Bharti Enterprises, Satya Electoral Trust, Harmony Electoral Trust and Corporate Electoral Trust.

Details of donors who account for contributions by electoral trusts should be available in the public domain for better transparency. The Finance Bill introduced in 2009 has stipulated that 95 per cent of the income of such trusts should be donated to political parties. Whether this is being done has to be verified, ADR has reccommended.

Electoral trusts should also not be permitted to accept foreign funds since foreign funding to political parties is prohibited under law. "Subsidiaries of foreign companies, who get around the law by registering in India, but receive their funding from overseas, should also not be allowed to fund political parties."

"The National and other political parties must therefore continue to provide all information under the Right to Information Act. This will only strengthen political parties, elections and democracy," ADR said.