While non-government organisations and individuals are using the Right to Information (RTI) Act to put in public domain information obtained on electoral bonds (EBs), the Union government says details of EBs encashed by political parties is not collated centrally at State Bank of India (SBI).
In a written reply, Pankaj Chaudhary, minister of state for finance, told the Lok Sabha, “The purchaser is allowed to buy electoral bonds only on due fulfilment of all the extant instructions regarding know-your-customer (KYC) norms issued by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) and by making payment from a bank account. All payments for the issuance of the bond are accepted only in Indian rupees, through demand draft or cheque or through electronic clearing system or direct debit to the buyer’s account. The details of electoral bonds encashed political party-wise are not collated centrally at the SBI.”
Members of Parliament (MPs) Abdul Khaleque, Vinod Kumar Sonkar, Dr Sukanta Majumdar, Bhola Singh and Raja Amareshwara Naik had asked about the amount of EBs purchased by the citizens as well as the amount of funds encashed or collected by eligible political parties through EBs till date, phase-wise and party-wise.
While the minister supplied information on the amount of EBs purchased by the general public and redeemed by eligible political parties till XVIII phase, he could not disclose details of EBs encashed by eligible political parties.
Information obtained by Commodore (Cmde) Lokesh Batra (retd) under RTI shows that the Union government procured bonds worth Rs18,531.50 crore during calendar years 2018 and 2019. These bonds were sold in 18 phases through 29 designated branches of SBI.
Commenting on Mr Chaudhary’s reply in the Lok Sabha, Cmde Batra says that if the party-wise data on encashment of EBs is not available with SBI, who maintains such data? “How could the government claim that amount encashed or collected only by eligible parties through electoral bonds? What is the government hiding?”
On 2 January 2018, the finance ministry had notified the EB scheme. As per the scheme, an electoral bond is a bond issued like a promissory note. It may be purchased by a person who is a citizen of India or entities incorporated or established in India. The bonds are issued in multiples of Rs1,000, Rs10,000, Rs1 lakh, Rs10 lakh and Rs1 crore.
These are available at specified branches of SBI, and any account-holder compliant with know-your-customer (KYC) norms can buy these bonds.
Donors can donate the bonds to their party of choice, which can then be encashed by the party’s verified account within 15 days. The bond does not carry the name of the buyer or the payee.
The recipient political party does not have to disclose who it has received the bond from in its account. Neither does the donor entity have to state to which party it has donated. Also, as per the scheme, only eligible political parties with a 1% vote share are eligible to buy EBs.
Given the anonymity provided to donors by the scheme, it is seen that EBs have emerged as the most popular mode of donations to national political parties for FY19-20. More than 62% of the total income or Rs2,993.82 crore of seven national parties came from donations through EBs, where the donor’s identity is not disclosed to the public.
According to an analysis by Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), a non-government organisation (NGO), during FY19-20, four national parties, namely, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Indian National Congress (INC), All India Trinamool Congress (AITC) and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) collected 62.92% or Rs2,993.826 crore of their total income from donations through EBs.
BJP received donations worth Rs2,555 crore through EBs, INC received Rs317.86 crore, AITC received Rs100.46 crore and NCP received Rs20.50 crore for EBs.