Source: 
The Hindu
https://www.thehindu.com/elections/lok-sabha/special-investigation-team-headed-by-retired-supreme-court-judge-should-be-formed-to-uncover-corruption-in-electoral-bonds-prashant-bhushan/article68087262.ece
Author: 
SHILPA ELIZABETH
Date: 
20.04.2024
City: 
Bengaluru

‘For every ₹1,000 crore of electoral bonds, contracts worth at least 100 times that have been given to the companies which bought those electoral bonds’

After the apex court declaredelectoral bonds unconstitutionalin February, activists are now demanding an independent investigation to further probe the matter, and have moved the Supreme Court in this regard.

Lawyer Prashant Bhushan, who appeared in the court on behalf of Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), told mediapersons in Bengaluru that a special investigation team, headed by a retired Supreme Court judge, should be formed to uncover the corruption. He further added that a petition has been filedin the Supreme Court seeking the same.

“Under the Prevention of Corruption Act, there is a presumption that if your file is pending with a particular government and thereafter you give some money to them without any consideration, then it will be presumed a kickback... But apart from that presumption, we still need to find out the people in the companies, political parties and government who were involved in this conspiracy, and also which agencies were involved,” said Mr. Bhushan.

Adding that the petition was filed a few days ago, he hoped that it will soon come up for hearing in the court.

Scale of scam

Bhushan noted that the size of the scam should not be judged by the figure of ₹16,500 crore, which is the money collected by issuing electoral bonds.

“For every ₹1,000 crore of electoral bonds, contracts worth at least 100 times that have been given to the companies which bought those electoral bonds,” he said.

Citing the example of Megha Engineering and Infrastructures Limited, he pointed out that after the company giving ₹140 crores of electoral bonds to the BJP in April, the next month it was awarded a ₹14,000 crore contract for a tunnel by the Maharashtra goverment controlled by the BJP.

“This gives you a scale. For ₹16,000 crores worth of bond, probably ₹16 lakh crores of contracts have been influenced by these bonds. Not just that, lakhs of crores that could have been seized by the ED, IT or CBI from these companies have not been recovered because of these bonds,” he said.

Warnings ignored

Anjali Bharadwaj, national coordinator NCPRI, who was present at the media conference, criticised the Prime Minister’s statement on how the absence of electoral bonds wouldpush the country towards black money again.

“The finance ministry brought in electoral bonds completely riding roughshod over all the warnings from the RBI and ECI on black money and money laundering,” she said.

Ms. Bharadwaj alleged that the SBI is keeping people in the dark regarding their standard operating procedure on keeping and tracking the bonds, and has denied a RTI request by activists saying it would hurt the commercial interests of third parties.

Money game

Demanding reforms in election spending, Mr. Bhushan pointed out that the exercise has become a money game, making candidature almost impossible for an ordinary citizen.

After the apex court declaredelectoral bonds unconstitutionalin February, activists are now demanding an independent investigation to further probe the matter, and have moved the Supreme Court in this regard.

Lawyer Prashant Bhushan, who appeared in the court on behalf of Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), told mediapersons in Bengaluru that a special investigation team, headed by a retired Supreme Court judge, should be formed to uncover the corruption. He further added that a petition has been filedinthe Supreme Court seeking the same.

“Under the Prevention of Corruption Act, there is a presumption that if your file is pending with a particular government and thereafter you give some money to them without any consideration, then it will be presumed a kickback... But apart from that presumption, we still need to find out the people in the companies, political parties and government who were involved in this conspiracy, and also which agencies were involved,” said Mr. Bhushan.

Adding that the petition was filed a few days ago, he hoped that it will soon come up for hearing in the court.

Scale of scam

Bhushan noted that the size of the scam should not be judged by the figure of ₹16,500 crore, which is the money collected by issuing electoral bonds.

“For every ₹1,000 crore of electoral bonds, contracts worth at least 100 times that have been given to the companies which bought those electoral bonds,” he said.

Citing the example of Megha Engineering and Infrastructures Limited, he pointed out that after the company giving ₹140 crores of electoral bonds to the BJP in April, the next month it was awarded a ₹14,000 crore contract for a tunnel by the Maharashtra goverment controlled by the BJP.

“This gives you a scale. For ₹16,000 crores worth of bond, probably ₹16 lakh crores of contracts have been influenced by these bonds. Not just that, lakhs of crores that could have been seized by the ED, IT or CBI from these companies have not been recovered because of these bonds,” he said.

Warnings ignored

Anjali Bharadwaj, national coordinator NCPRI, who was present at the media conference, criticised the Prime Minister’s statement on how the absence of electoral bonds wouldpush the country towards black money again.

“The finance ministry brought in electoral bonds completely riding roughshod over all the warnings from the RBI and ECI on black money and money laundering,” she said.

Ms. Bharadwaj alleged that the SBI is keeping people in the dark regarding their standard operating procedure on keeping and tracking the bonds, and has denied a RTI request by activists saying it would hurt the commercial interests of third parties.

Money game

Demanding reforms in election spending, Mr. Bhushan pointed out that the exercise has become a money game, making candidature almost impossible for an ordinary citizen.

While the limit on individual spend by a candidate for a Lok Sabha election is ₹75 lakhs, there is no such limit for a political party.

“If BJP were to put up all 500 candidates, theycan spend maximum of ₹400 crore. But the electoral bond money alone which went to the BJPin the last six years was over ₹8,000 crores, which means the party can spend 20 times of what its candidates can spend in an election. This is a complete mockery,” he said.

Alleging that transparency was never the goal, he said that even candidates often spend above their limit, but get away with it as they spend in cash.

“This could have been easily curbed by having a one-line amendment in the Representation of People Act to the effect that no cash will be used. The whole election has become a money game. Today, we are seeing the imbalance. BJP has twice as much money as all the other political parties put together. There’s no level playing field.”

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