Indian Express
Damini Nath
New Delhi

The Finance Ministry on Monday notified an amendment to the Electoral Bond Scheme-2018 to allow additional 15 days for sale of electoral bonds in an election (Assembly) year.

With the model code of conduct already in place for the Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat Assembly elections, the government’s move to open an additional seven-day window for the sale of electoral bonds from Wednesday has transparency activists and Opposition leaders questioning the timing.

The Finance Ministry on Monday notified an amendment to the Electoral Bond Scheme-2018 to allow additional 15 days for sale of electoral bonds in an election (Assembly) year. So far, the policy allowed for sale of electoral bonds during a 10-day period in January, April, July and October each, with an additional 30 days allowed in the year of Lok Sabha elections. The Ministry also announced the 23rd phase of sale of bonds from Wednesday till November 15, this when Himachal goes to the poll on Saturday, and Gujarat on December 1 and 5. Municipal elections in Delhi are also scheduled for December 4.

Reacting to the development, Prof Jagdeep S Chhokar, a founder of the electoral watchdog Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), said the announcement was “most certainly a violation of the model code of conduct”. The ADR is among those who had challenged the electoral bond scheme in the Supreme Court. The case is coming up for hearing on December 6.

“It is close to making electoral bonds available throughout the year. The floodgates have been fully opened. It shows a complete disregard for all norms of electoral and judicial stipulations. The role of unaccounted money in the country’s politics is becoming even more ubiquitous,” he said.

Right to Information activist Commodore Lokesh Batra (retired) said the government’s decision was “shocking”, particularly since the matter of stay on the scheme was scheduled to be heard by the Supreme Court soon. “In 2018, the government had already allowed illegal sales of electoral bonds beyond the laid down period… Moreover, round the year… some or other elections happen, so it amounts to adding 15 days’ sale period every year. It is not clear if the government has issued the amendment to the 2018 notification in consultation with the RBI,” he said.

Sitaram Yechury of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), which is one of the petitioners in the Supreme Court, questioned the timing of the additional sale window.

“Yet another tranche of electoral bonds on eve of Gujarat polls. The 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,” Yechury said in a tweet.

Rajeev Gowda, Congress spokesperson and the head of its research department, said electoral bonds were a “fraud on democracy and free-and-fair elections”.

“It is now well-established that electoral bonds are an elaborate and opaque method to fill the coffers of the ruling party. RTIs and investigations have shown how even the RBI and the Election Commission were against the scheme. I personally opposed electoral bonds in Parliament as they fail the tests of transparency, level-playing field and white money. Hopefully, the Supreme Court will soon hear petitions challenging the constitutionality of electoral bonds. That the government chose to make another brazen amendment to the sale window shows its scant regard for processes and electoral norms,” Gowda said.

Chief Election Commissioner Rajiv Kumar and the poll agency’s spokesperson did not respond to requests for a comment.

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