Skip to main content

Electoral bonds 'likely to be sold' ahead of Lok Sabha polls: Will Supreme Court act?

By Rosamma Thomas*

Under clause 8 of the Electoral Bond Scheme, 2018, bonds can be issued for 10 days each in January, April, July and October, and an additional 30 days in the year of a general election. With general elections 2024 just months away, the 30-day period of issuance of bonds might be invoked again, even though the whole scheme has been challenged in the Supreme Court.
On November 02, 2023, the SC hearing in the matter was completed and the judgment was reserved. In its order of November 2, 2023, the SC directed the Election Commission of India (ECI) that: “In any event, we now direct that the Election Commission shall produce up-to-date data until 30 September 2023 in terms of the interim directions which were issued on 12 April 2019. The exercise shall be carried out on or before 19 November 2023. The data in sealed packet shall be handed over to the Registrar (judicial) of this court.”
Transparency activist Commodore Lokesh Batra filed an RTI with the Public Information Officer (PIO) of the ECI in the third week of November 2023, requesting copies of the complete set of documents including notings in the file(s)/folders on which Commission (EC) had processed the directions of the SC order of November 2, 2023.
Commodore Batra brought to the notice of the PIO that he had filed a similar RTI request even after the SC order of April 12, 2019, and had been provided complete file documents including a list of 105 political parties which provided details of electoral bonds in sealed cover to the EC. Batra attached that list with his current RTI application, adding that in October 2023 the State Bank of India, in response to an RTI application, had said that only 25 political parties had opened accounts for the purpose of encashing these bonds.
Commodore Batra mentioned that as per the existing Electoral Bond Scheme, each Electoral Bond (EB) is a promissory note (akin to currency note) -- hence the SBI would have details of EBs buyers/donors as per their KYC (Know Your Customer protocol). 
SBI would also have details of ‘political party account’ in which the said EB is redeemed, because each Electoral Bond (EB) has a hidden number verified by the SBI’s authorized branch before redemption in a political party’s ‘specific account’, which is opened for the purpose of redeeming electoral bonds. Legally, the political party would not know the name of the donor based solely on the anonymous promissory note termed ‘electoral bond’ it received.
Like in 2019, Commodore Batra sought the ‘List of Political Parties’ which had submitted EB details to ECI in sealed covers, in compliance with the letter from the Election Commission dated November 3, 2023.
In his response, on December 18, 2023, Binod Kumar, the public information officer of the Election Commission, denied information under the Section-8(1)(b) of the RTI Act.
It is noteworthy the Section-8(1)(b) of the act mentions “information which has been expressly forbidden to be published by any court of law or tribunal or the disclosure of which may constitute contempt of court.”
Commodore Batra filed an appeal against this denial of information, arguing that the Supreme Court had not forbidden publication of the information. Commodore Batra pointed out that the PIO had also failed to offer a cogent reason for denying the information. While the PIO under section 7(1) of the RTI Act, 2005 quoted Section-8(1)(b) for denial of information, he had failed to provide justification for arriving at the reason for denial, as envisaged under the Section 7(8)(i) of the RTI Act, 2005.
Speaking with this reporter, Commodore Batra noted that two days after the SC reserved judgment, on November 4, 2023, the government announced 15 days of sale of Electoral Bonds from November 6-20, 2023. Electoral bonds were sold again for 10 days in January 2024. 
Though the apex court directed the ECI to produce up-to-date data until September 30, 2023 in terms of the interim directions issued on April 12, 2019, it is to be noted that the bonds have been sold already for a period of 45 days after September 30, 2023. (10 days in October, 15 days in November 2023 and 10 days in January 2014).
The Electoral Bond scheme is problematic for several reasons, with the potential to kill democracy by offering undue advantage to the party in power – between March 2018 and September 2023, the bonds were sold in 30 phases. 
The vast majority of the bonds sold are in the denomination of Rs 1 crore each – clearly, these bonds are becoming the major source of electoral funding, and are being purchased by the very rich, or corporate players, rather than the average Indian. Only 0.0001% of the bonds were in the denomination of Rs 1,000. The vast majority of these bonds (57%) also go to the party in power.
In response to a question in the Lok Sabha, on February 5, 2024, Pankaj Chaudhary, Union Minister of State for Finance answered that Electoral Bonds worth Rs16,518 crore had so far been purchased from the State Bank of India. The government had paid SBI Rs 8.57 crore as commission, and Security Printing and Minting Corporation of India Limited had received Rs 1.90 crore – the ordinary Indian bears this expense that the government shoulders.
In his response, the Union minister explained that the objective of the scheme is to ensure that “clean, tax paid money is coming into the system of political funding through proper banking channel.” 
However, as has been speculated, since the bonds are anonymous, it is possible for them to change hands several times before being submitted to a political party for encashment – who can guarantee that black money is not turned white through this scheme, as a man holding a bond of Rs 1 crore value could sell it to someone else at, say, Rs 1.2 crore, in exchange for the favour of turning Rs 20 lakh of black money white?
Also, the Department of Economic Affairs has referred to correspondence showing that 18% GST is charged on the bonds, but reimbursed by the government to SBI; what this means is that the burden is borne entirely by the Indian citizen.
The Electoral Bond scheme was introduced through amendments to law that lifted restrictions on the amount of donations that private firms could make; Election Commission, in a letter to the Ministry of Law and Justice in 2017, underlined that the proposal to lift the limit on donations from companies “opens up the possibility of shell companies being set up for the sole purpose of making donations”. 
Firms no longer need to declare which party they are contributing to; transparency in fund-raising by political parties is compromised as no reporting of contributions received is expected from the political parties. Donations can also be received from foreign companies having majority stake in Indian firms, which “could lead to Indian policies being influenced by foreign companies.”
If the Supreme Court does not rule in this matter with some urgency, the Centre may declare another round of 30-day issuance of the bond, in different phases, ahead of general elections 2024.
*Senior journalist



'Flawed' argument: Gandhi had minimal role, naval mutinies alone led to Independence

Counterview Desk Reacting to a Counterview  story , "Rewiring history? Bose, not Gandhi, was real Father of Nation: British PM Attlee 'cited'" (January 26, 2016), an avid reader has forwarded  reaction  in the form of a  link , which carries the article "Did Atlee say Gandhi had minimal role in Independence? #FactCheck", published in the site The article seeks to debunk the view, reported in the Counterview story, taken by retired army officer GD Bakshi in his book, “Bose: An Indian Samurai”, which claims that Gandhiji had a minimal role to play in India's freedom struggle, and that it was Netaji who played the crucial role. We reproduce the article here. Text: Nowadays it is said by many MK Gandhi critics that Clement Atlee made a statement in which he said Gandhi has ‘minimal’ role in India's independence and gave credit to naval mutinies and with this statement, they concluded the whole freedom struggle.

A Hindu alternative to Valentine's Day? 'Shiv-Parvati was first love marriage in Universe'

By Rajiv Shah*   The other day, I was searching on Google a quote on Maha Shivratri which I wanted to send to someone, a confirmed Shiv Bhakt, quite close to me -- with an underlying message to act positively instead of being negative. On top of the search, I chanced upon an article in, imagine!, a Nashik Corporation site which offered me something very unusual. 

Don't agree on domestic subsidies, ensure food security at WTO meet: Farmer leaders

Counterview Desk  The Indian Coordination Committee of Farmers Movements (ICCFM), a top network of farmers’ organizations in India, in a letter to Piyush Goyal, Minister of Commerce and Industry, has asked him to “safeguard food security and sovereignty, even as ensuring peasants' rights" at the 13th Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization (WTO MC 13), to take place from 26 to 29 February 2024 in Abu Dhabi.

Sharp 61-85% fall in Tech startup funding in India's top 'business-friendly' States

By Rajiv Shah Funding in Tech startups in top business-friendly Indian states has witnessed a major fall, a data intelligence platform for private market research has said in a series of reports it has released this month. Analysing Tech startup data of Telangana, Maharashtra, Delhi NCR, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala, Tracxn Technologies Ltd , the Bengaluru-based research firm, finds that except for Kerala, funding witnessed a fall of anywhere between 61% and 85%.

Maize, bajra, jute, banana cultivation banned off West Bengal border: Plea to NHRC

Counterview Desk  West Bengal-based human rights defender Kirity Roy, who is secretary, Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Manch, and is national convenor of the Programme Against Custodial Torture & Impunity, in a representation to the chairman, National Human Rights Commission, second within few days, has bought to light one more case of trespassing and destruction of a fertile banana plantation by BSF personnel along the Indo-Bangladesh border, stating, despite a written complaint to the police has taken "no initiative".

India second best place to invest, next to UAE, yet there is 'lacks support' for IT services

By Sreevas Sahasranamam, Aileen Ionescu-Somers*  The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is the best place in the world to start a new business, according to the latest annual Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) survey. The Arab nation is number one for the third year in a row thanks to a big push by the government into cutting-edge technology in its efforts to diversify away from oil.

Solar energy funding dips 9% in 2023; 2024 'kicks off' with US$1 billion investment

By Lakshmitha Raj*  Solar energy tech companies have already secured slightly over US$1 billion in funding in 2024 (till Feb 7, 2024) after total funding into Solar Energy companies in India fell 9% to US$1.55B in 2023 from US$1.7B in 2022. A total of 39 $100M+ rounds have been closed till date, with Delhi leading the city-wise funding, followed by Gurugram and Mumbai.

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

Mahanadi delta: Aggressive construction in flood plains, reduced fish stock, pollution

By Sudhansu R Das  Frequent natural calamities, unemployment, low farmers’ income, increase in crime rate and lack of quality human resources to strike a balance between growth and environment etc. continue to haunt the state. The state should delve into the root causes of poverty, unemployment and natural calamities.

Narmada Valley's fossil evidence: Ground for 'nationalists' to argue primates' India roots?

By Saurav Sarkar*  In December 1982, a geologist digging in India’s Central Narmada Valley found something he did not expect. Arun Sonakia, who at the time worked for the Geological Survey of India, unearthed a hominid fossil skullcap from the Pleistocene era. The discovery sent shockwaves through the field of paleoanthropology and put South Asia on the map of human prehistory. Some experts concluded that the skull likely belonged to a member of a predecessor species of ours, Homo heidelbergensis , or perhaps was a hybrid of homo species, while Sonakia himself suggested “ an affinity… to Homo erectus .”