While commoners can land in jail for hiding income, political parties continue to thrive on anonymous donations, no questions asked.

A new report by the Association of Democratic Reforms (ADR) has shown that two-thirds of the income generated by six national and 51 regional political parties between 2004 and 2015 was from unknown sources and hence untraceable.

Based on the analysis of income tax returns filed by political outfits, the ADR has put the total income of political parties at Rs 11,367.34 crore over the 11-year period under study. Of that, a whopping Rs 7,832.98 crore was from unknown sources.

Among the national parties (Congress, BJP, BSP, NCP, CPI and CPM), 83 per cent of the total income of the Congress and 65 per cent of the BJP came from unknown sources. Among regional parties, the Samajwadi Party received 94 per cent of its total income (in 11 years) from unknown sources. The second highest percentage (86) of income from unknown sources is that of the Shiromani Akali Dal. At present, political parties are not required to reveal the name of individuals or organisations giving less than Rs 20,000. The result: Bulk of the money received by political parties remains practically hidden.

“We demand that all political parties start accepting donations digitally and promote financial transparency,” said Jadgeep Chhokar, founder member of the ADR, an NGO that works to promote electoral reforms. Chhokar also called upon parties to stop evading coverage under the Right to Information Act and to promote democracy in real terms.

The analysis shows the income of national parties from unknown sources increased by 313 per cent from Rs 273.13 crore in 2004-05 to Rs 1,130.92 crore in 2014-15. The corresponding increase for regional parties was much higher at 652 per cent from Rs 37.393 crore to Rs 281.01 crore over the 11-year period. 

The BSP, a principal contender in UP, is the only party to consistently declare receiving nil donations above Rs 20,000 in 11 years! This means 100 per cent of the BSP’s donations came from unknown sources even as the total income of the Mayawati led outfit rose by 2,057 per cent from Rs 5.19 crore in 2004 to Rs 111.96 crore in 2014-15.

Out of the 51 regional parties considered for the ADR report, 45 have not submitted their donations statements to the EC for at least one financial year. Jammu and Kashmir’s ruling PDP is one of the 12 regional parties to have never filed their contribution report to the EC since 2004-05.

Among national parties, the Congress has the highest total income of Rs 3, 982.09 crore during the 11-year period under study, which is almost 43 per cent of the total income of all six national parties. The BJP has the second highest income of Rs 3,272.63 crore over these years, which is 35.27 per cent of the total income of national parties. The CPM declared the third highest income at Rs 892.99 crore, followed by the BSP at Rs 763.95 crore, the NCP at Rs 351.28 crore and the CPI at Rs 15.36 crore.

Based on these findings, the ADR today said since a large percentage of the income of political parties could not be traced to original donors, these should be made available to the public under the RTI Act. Anil Sharma of ADR said, “In several countries, including Nepal, Bhutan, Germany, France, Italy, Brazil, the US and Japan, 75 per cent of the funding of political parties has to be from known sources.”

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