The Wire
New Delhi

Even as two petitions challenging the constitutional validity of the electoral bonds are awaiting adjudication in the Supreme Court, data obtained through the Right to Information Act has revealed that in the 18 phases of sale of these bonds over four years – from 2018 to 2021 – over 92% of the bonds sold were of the Rs 1 crore denomination. This, transparency activists insist, shows that most of the large anonymous political donations through the scheme are from big companies eyeing bigger returns.

So far there have been 19 tranches of sale of electoral bonds, through designated branches of the State Bank of India. The last round of sale took place from January 1 to 10 this year.

According to data gathered by RTI activist Commodore Lokesh K. Batra (retired), in the last four years 15,420 electoral bonds worth nearly Rs 7,995 crore were sold (Rs 7994,97,75,000 to be precise). Of these, 15,274 electoral bonds worth over Rs 7,974 crore were encashed. So only bonds worth a little over Rs 20 crore remained uncashed. These were subsequently transferred to the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund.

In response to an RTI application filed by Batra on October 28, 2021, the State Bank of India informed him on November 18 that in the last four years – 2018 to 2021 – during the sale period of the 18 tranches or phases, the electoral bonds were sold through 17 of its branches.

The data revealed that nearly 80% of the bonds were sold in just four cities – Mumbai (26.86%), Kolkata (25.04%), New Delhi (14.33%) and Hyderabad (13.86%). After this, nearly 18% of the bonds were sold in the four cities of Chennai, Bhubaneswar, Gandhinagar and Bengaluru.

The information provided by SBI also revealed that a vast majority of the electoral bonds sold – over 92% – were of the highest denomination of Rs 1 crore. A total of 7,405 of these bonds – worth Rs 7,405 crore – were sold. This was followed by 5,680 bonds of Rs 10 lakh each, ,2155 bonds of Rs 1 lakh each, 122 of Rs 10,000 each and 55 of Rs 1,000 each.

When it came to the encashment of these bonds, it was revealed in the SBI reply that they were encashed in 13 cities. The largest amount of over Rs 5,502 crore was encashed in the New Delhi Main Branch, followed by nearly Rs 825 crore in Hyderabad Main Branch, Rs 561 crore in the Kolkata Main Branch and Rs 554 crore in the Bhubaneswar Main Branch.

As for the denomination-wise electoral bonds sold in various branches, the SBI data revealed that the largest number of bonds were sold in Kolkata (4,911), following by Mumbai (3,201), New Delhi (2,055) and Hyderabad (1,878). Overall, it revealed that of the 15,420 electoral bonds that were sold, 7405 were of the Rs 1 crore denomination, 5,683 of Rs 10 lakh denomination, 2,155 of Rs 1 lakh; 122 of Rs 10,000 and 55 of Rs 1,000 denomination.

From the Department of Economic Affairs, Batra also learnt that a total of 6,64,250 electoral bond forms were printed and of these 2,65,000 each were of Rs 1,000 and Rs 10,000 denomination each, 93,000 were of Rs 10,000 denomination, 26,600 were of Rs 10 lakh denomination and 14,650 were of Rs 1 crore denomination.

In response to an RTI filed by Batra on October 28, 2021, the DEA responded on November 19 with the details of the printing of electoral bonds.

It said a total amount of Rs 1.86 crore (Rs 1,86,05,720 to be precise) had been paid till that day towards printing of electoral bonds.

Further, the DEA said “the amount for printing of EBs was paid from the budgetary head ‘2052 Secretariat General Services’ under demand number 27 of the department for the financial year 2019-20″.

Opacity of donations through electoral bonds remains a major concern

While the electoral bond scheme was introduced with the Finance Bill 2017 and notified in January 2018 to provide funding to political parties which have secured not less than 1% of the votes polled in the last general election to the Lok Sabha or a state assembly, the manner in which it allowed anonymous donations and most of the funds went to the ruling BJP had raised eyebrows.

The first to raise a red flag was the Election Commission, which in 2017 itself raised serious concerns about the scheme. Subsequently, a number of petitions have been filed in the Supreme Court since 2018 challenging its legality. The apex court has twice refused an interim stay on the scheme as sought in its petition by the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR).

The Communist Party of India (Marxist) had in July 2021 moved the Supreme Court seeking urgent hearing of a batch of petitions that had challenged the constitutional validity of the electoral bonds scheme. In its petition, the Left party had stated that the matter pertained to “the right to know and have information of who, rather which entities/corporations are funding our political parties, potential quid pro quos, corruption, etc.”

“It is important for a functioning democracy to have a transparent system of political funding. Since the adoption of the Electoral Bonds Scheme in 2018…there has been a massive amount anonymous donations which challenges the very core of our democratic functioning,” the CPI(M) petition said.

Subsequently, CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury has on multiple occasions – the last being December 30 evening – tweeted the need for an urgent hearing in the matter. In this tweet, he said, while the petitions remain unheard for more than three years, this has permitted BJP to display obscene money power.

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