The recent amendment to the Electoral Bond Scheme, 2018, was conceived nearly 20 months ago in March 2021 and the sale of the first tranche of electoral bonds was “illegal” according to Right to Information (RTI) replies on the matter received by transparency activist Commodore (retired) Lokesh Batra.
On the basis of RTI replies received by him from the Ministry of Finance among others, Commodore Batra contended that the sale of the first tranche of electoral bonds from March 1 to 10, 2018, was in violation of the scheme as notified on January 2 that year.
Introducing the scheme as a means ‘to cleanse the system of political funding in the country’, the Finance Ministry had stated that electoral bonds would be available for a period of 10 days each in January, April, July and October, as per specification by the Central government.
An additional period of 30 days, however, could be specified by the Centre in years of general elections to the House of People or the Lok Sabha. An alternative to cash donations made to political parties, the government had, last month, notified a 10-day window for the 22nd tranche of such bonds to be issued and encashed solely by the State Bank of India.
“As per the schedule for the issue of electoral bonds till date, they went on sale for separate 10-day periods in March, April, May, July, October and November of 2018 when there was no election to the Lok Sabha. It is a clear admission that these sales were in violation of the scheme,” Commodore Batra said.
“The notification states that an exception would be an additional 30 days’ sale period during general election to the Lok Sabha. Round the year, some or other ‘general elections to the Legislative Assembly of States and union territories with legislature’ occur, which amounts to adding 15 days to the sale period every year,” he added.
The Centre had, earlier this month, approved the issuance of the 23rd tranche of electoral bonds open for sale on November 9 with Assembly elections to Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat around the corner, coming under fire from the Opposition, civil society groups and activists especially when their constitutional validity is scheduled for hearing in the Supreme Court on December 6.
According to a notification on November 7, the Centre had amended the Electoral Bond Scheme to grant itself the power to spell out an extra fortnight of electoral bond sales in years when States and Union Territories with a legislature had polls using it further to open a fresh one-week window for issuing such bonds.