A day after the Centre approved the issuance of the 23rd tranche of electoral bonds which will open for sale on Wednesday with Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat Assembly elections around the corner, the move came under fire from the Opposition, civil society groups and activists.
The Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), which has filed a Public Interest Litigation petition in the Supreme Court demanding that the Electoral Bond Scheme, 2018, be scrapped entirely, questioned the timing of the move given the fact that the matter was scheduled for hearing in the Supreme Court on December 6
Transparency Campaigner Commodore Lokesh Batra (retd.) termed the move “shocking” adding that it translated to adding 15 days to the sale period of electoral bonds every year in addition to questioning whether the Reserve Bank of India had been consulted.
Senior advocate Prashant Bhushan, who is representing the ADR in the matter, termed the development “a mockery of transparency” in electoral funding.
Introducing the scheme in January, 2018, as a means ‘to cleanse the system of political funding in the country’, the Finance Ministry had stated that these 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, which can be purchased by Indian citizens or entities incorporated or established in the country, to be issued and encashed solely by the State Bank of India.
On Monday, the Centre 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 starting Wednesday.
Scrap electoral bonds: Yechury
“Yet another tranche of Electoral Bonds on eve of Gujarat polls. 2018 legislation had notified 4 tranches annually. Now for every Assembly poll even as SC is to hear challenges to its Constitutional validity on Dec 6. Legalising political corruption must end. Scrap Electoral Bonds” CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury tweeted.
Senior Indian National Congress spokesperson Pawan Khera had, on November 3, questioned the “opacity” surrounding the bonds.
‘Election Commission silent’
“When the Prime Minister utters the word Revadi, the Election Commission gets very active, starts writing letters to all political parties, asking their opinion on Revadi culture, but, the same Election Commission chooses to stay silent on electoral bonds,” Mr. Khera had said.
“The opacity of the electoral bonds is for everyone to see. Which party has got how much money through electoral bonds is something, which the people of India deserve to know, why is the Election Commission silent,” he had asked.
Also Read | Here is why the electoral bonds scheme must go
Professor Jagdeep Chhokar, founding member and trustee, ADR, said, “This move will open the floodgates for unaccounted-for-cash to flow freely into the electoral system.”
The timing, he also said, was not only suspect given the fact that the matter was scheduled for hearing in the Supreme Court on December 6 but also because the Model Code of Conduct was in force in two States scheduled for Assembly elections — Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat.
“This is just a step in the direction of allowing electoral bonds to be available throughout the year,” he added.
Mr. Bhushan argued that the bonds had been introduced ostensibly as a means to bring transparency into political funding in the country — but had deviated far from this stated objective.
“They have become a mockery of the same transparency in the interest of which they were introduced; the BJP has been the beneficiary of 70% of the electoral bonds issued so far; so much for a level playing field when it comes to these on the heels of elections,” Mr. Bhushan said.
Commodore Batra said the government decision was shocking especially when the matter related to a stay on the Electoral Bond Scheme was due to be heard on December 6.
“In 2018, the government had already allowed illegal sales of electoral bonds beyond the laid down period specified in Notification dated 02-01-2018 that says 10 days sale in January, April, July and October — exception was additional 30 days sale period during general election to Lok Sabha,” he said.
“Moreover, it is experienced that round the year some or other general elections to the Legislative Assembly of States and Union territories with Legislature happens — so it amounts to adding 15 days sale period every year. It is not clear if the government has issued amendments in the 2018 notification in consultation with the RBI,” he added.