Electoral Bonds, Political Funding or a Scam

Supreme courts verdict on electoral bonds, saving citizens right to information.

After six years of secrecy surrounding who gave money to political parties through electoral bonds, information has finally started to come out on the orders of the Supreme Court of India.

Prior to being deemed illegal by the Supreme Court on February 15, electoral bonds were physical instruments purchasable by anyone from the State Bank of India and subsequently donated to a political party, which could then exchange them for funds.

Upon its inception in 2018, the Modi government asserted that the electoral bond scheme would enhance transparency in political funding by enabling anonymous contributions from donors to political parties.

Prior to this, political parties were restricted to receiving contributions exceeding Rs 20,000 solely through conventional bank cheques and transfers, necessitating them to disclose the identities of such donors in annual reports submitted to the Election Commission.

The electoral bond system lacked donor names, thus maintaining donor anonymity within the banking system during bond redemption. However, recent revelations indicate that donors disclosed their identities to parties when transferring bonds, meaning parties were aware of donors while the public remained uninformed. The Supreme Court invalidated the scheme, asserting the public’s right to know donors’ identities. It mandated the State Bank of India to disclose bond buyer and beneficiary information to the Election Commission by March 6 for public dissemination.

On March 4, the bank asked for an extension till June. The court rejected the plea, setting in motion the release of the bond data, with the first dataset coming out on March 14.

On March 14, the Election Commission of India unveiled two lists on its website. The first list detailed the purchasers of each electoral bond acquired between April 12, 2019, and January 2024, specifying the bond’s date, denomination, and buyer names. This list uncovered significant revelations, such as a lottery company emerging as the primary purchaser, substantial contributions from infrastructure and pharmaceutical companies, and the involvement of Reliance-linked firms. Notably, it highlighted that 21 companies purchased bonds subsequent to being raided by central agencies like the Enforcement Directorate.

The second list, also released on March 14 by the Election Commission, outlined the dates and amounts of bonds encashed by political parties. This enabled the computation of each party’s total received funds, exposing that the BJP had amassed Rs 8,250 crore out of the Rs 16,492 crore in bonds redeemed—accounting for slightly over half of the total funds procured through electoral bonds.

Two crucial elements were absent from the disclosed information. Firstly, the unique code assigned to each bond, which could facilitate the correlation between the buyer and the beneficiary, was not included. The presence of this concealed alphanumeric code on the bonds was initially unveiled by journalist Poonam Agarwal in 2018, following her purchase of two bonds and subsequent forensic testing.

Additionally, the lists lacked data concerning bonds purchased before April 12, 2019, amounting to over Rs 4,000 crore. This omission was due to the Supreme Court’s interim order in April 2019, during which it directed the Election Commission to collect information on electoral bonds from all political parties and submit it to the court in a sealed cover while petitions challenging the scheme’s legality were being heard.

When the Supreme Court delivered its final judgment in February 2024, it mandated that only data pertaining to electoral bonds bought and encashed after the interim order of April 12, 2019, be made public. The judges explained this decision on March 18, stating, “We chose that date because it was our considered opinion that once the interim order was issued, everyone was notified.” The court suggested that individuals who made donations through bonds before the interim order assumed their identities would remain anonymous, thus their privacy should be safeguarded, in contrast to those who donated after the interim order date.

Also Read: https://khabarelahar.com/?s=electoral+bonds

On March 17, the Election Commission’s website was updated with the second dataset, comprising reports submitted by political parties to the commission between 2019 and 2023, previously submitted to the Supreme Court in sealed covers.

These disclosures lacked a standardized format. Most parties only provided the dates and amounts of redeemed bonds. However, three parties—the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), and the Janata Dal (Secular)—went beyond, revealing the names of all their donors. This revelation debunked the notion that electoral bonds were anonymous.

The DMK’s disclosure highlighted Future Gaming and Hotel Services Private Limited as its largest donor. The Janata Dal (Secular) disclosed that Infosys, a software giant, had contributed to the party before the 2018 Karnataka election. This information wasn’t present in the first dataset, as it lacked the names of bond buyers before April 2019.

Input from Various News Sources.

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