Budget 2021 Expectations: What FM Sitharaman can do to fix the problem with electoral bonds – Hear the experts

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January 27, 2021 3:45 PM

Union Budget 2021 Expectations for Election Funding, Electoral Bonds: An electoral bond can be purchased by a person who can donate that to any political party which then encases them in the designated branch of SBI. The donor doesn't have to disclose his/her identity while purchasing the bonds and this, experts say, opens the door for funding through questionable sources.

Budget 2021-22, Union Budget 2021FM Sitharaman also proposed reducing the duration of residency for individuals to set-up OPC. (PTI)

Union Budget 2021-22 Expectations for Electoral Bonds: Introduced to bring transparency in political funding, electoral bonds are believed to have delivered the opposite, bringing more opacity into the system. One does not know who is donating to whom and where the money is coming from, say two poll experts discussing whether the scheme brought in by the then Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has been successful. As per the scheme, an electoral bond can be purchased by a person who can donate that to any political party which then encases them in the designated branch of SBI. The donor doesn’t have to disclose his/her identity while purchasing the bonds and this, experts say, opens the door for funding through questionable sources.

The Association for Democratic Reforms, an election watch body, has been demanding the scrapping of electoral bonds ever since it was introduced. Anil Verma, head of ADR, says that about 60-70 per cent money that goes to political parties is from unknown sources. “We include electoral bonds also in the unknown sources because we don’t know who the donors are,” he adds.The ADR, he says, has been against the electoral bonds because the scheme brings opacity to the whole system. After the bonds were introduced, the poll watch body challenged it in the Supreme Court.

Ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha election, the SC heard the matter but did not stay the law. The court, however, observed that this was a matter of great importance and great deliberation was required on it. The court also directed that the political parties which have received the funds through electoral bonds submit the details in a sealed cover to the Election Commission of India. “But that was the end of it.” Ahead of the Bihar polls, ADR again filed a petition asking for a stay on electoral bonds. But nothing happened…The main drawback in the electoral bonds, which even the Election Commission in its written submission has mentioned, is that this will bring in all types of shell firms, through them the money will be routed and money will be converted into white,” he adds.

Verma further says that there is quite a significant expenditure done on electoral bonds. “Printing costs money, the SBI charges commission on this – who is paying for all that? Isn’t it taxpayers? And the political parties are just enjoying the benefits, the donor is happy that his name is not disclosed. The last count after the Bihar election, the total amount of electoral bonds sold in all 13-14 phases was Rs 6600 crores. It (bond) has taken over all other forms of donations.”

“The indication that it is big corporates that are buying this is evident from the fact that 90 percent of the electoral bonds are in the denomination of Rs 10 lakhs and Rs 1 crore. So it is obvious who is donating the money and only people who know are RBI, SBI and Government of India. Only people who don’t know are the common man,” Verma says.

When asked about whether the ADR wants the Centre to scrap electoral bonds completely or replace it with something else, Verma says, “What was wrong with the earlier system? It was a much better system. There were checks and balances. There were limits that corporations can not donate more than 7.5% of their profit, but that limit was removed.” In the older system, he says, it was very clear that one had to be a profit making company but even this condition was removed. “Now, what type of companies are donating…we can guess. Of course proper corporates are also donating but shell companies can also be made. “If donors’ names are revealed that will be a step forward…but we have been demanding scrapping of electoral bonds,” Verma says.

Former chief election commissioner SY Quraishi too thinks that the electoral bonds in the current form does not help in any way in bringing transparency in political funding. He says that the transparency in political funding is the basic principle of free and fair elections, which is what the then finance minister’s (Arun Jaitly) opening statement was in his budget speech. “He (Jaitley) said without transparency in political funding, free and fair elections are not possible. He said that in 70 years, despite all the efforts, we have failed to achieve it. So let’s achieve it. But the electoral bonds instead of bringing transparency have killed whatever existed,” Quraishi says.

Suggesting that the previous regime was better, the former CEC adds that earlier any donation of Rs 20,000 or above was reported to the EC. “Now even Rs 2 crore, 20 crore or 200 crores won’t be known – who gave to whom and where is the money coming from,” he adds.

On the government’s arguments that if they reveal the name of the donor then there would be repercussions later, the former poll chief says: “I will ask the government that for the last 70 years these corporates have been donating to all political parties — were they penalised by the rivals? Have they (BJP government) penalised the donors of its rivals? The system has worked for 70 years.” He said that the electoral bonds would be fine if the names of donors are disclosed. When asked about his expectation from Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, the former CEC said that the unfinished task which was started in the 2017 budget should be finished now.

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