Eighty-nine former civil servants on Sunday urged the Election Commission of India to move the Supreme Court for an early hearing of the Electoral Bonds case to bring transparency in election funding.
Electoral bonds are monetary instruments that citizens or corporate groups can buy from a bank and give to a political party, which is then free to redeem for money. The Centre had first introduced electoral bonds in January 2018.
Activists and non-governmental organisations have questioned the transparency of the bonds as no one is required to declare their purchase of these interest-free bonds and political parties do not need to show the source of the money.
The case against electoral bonds was first filed in the Supreme Court by the Association for Democratic Reforms in September 2017, but has since remained pending. In March, the Supreme Court said that it would consider if the petitions against electoral bonds are to be referred to the Constitution bench.
On Saturday, the former civil servants alleged that electoral funding is now totally opaque and “open to wholesale corruption”.
“With no information on the contributors to the election chests of different political parties, the doors are wide open for favours being doled out to preferred parties by governments in power, leading to a concentration of wealth in a few hands and the complete distortion of economic policy,” they said.
The former bureaucrats, who are part of the Constitutional Conduct Group, said that despite some initial reservations about electoral bonds, the Election Commission of India has made no efforts to raise the issue before the Supreme Court.
Further, they also alleged that members of the Constitutional Conduct Group have had written and held meetings with the Election Commission since 2018 on several issues such as the alleged abuse of money and muscle power during elections, the misuse of print and electronic media, the violations of the Model Code of Conduct by slanderous and hate speech, the defects in the process of registration of voters and the opacity as regards the recording and counting of votes.
“Our group had also taken the initiative to constitute a Citizens’ Commission on Elections: two published volumes of its recommendations have been sent to you earlier,” they said. “As former colleagues of yours, we note with regret that you have not deemed it necessary to interact with us to discuss our suggestions.”
Further, the former civil servants also said that despite clear guidelines of the poll body, the “media slant towards the Bharatiya Janata Party” is clearly visible during the election process.
“During the recent Karnataka legislative assembly elections, an inordinate amount of time was given by many electronic news channels to the roadshows of the Prime Minister [Narendra Modi],” the ex-bureaucrats said.
They said that the “silent period” of 48 hours before the polling process has also been “cleverly exploited” by political parties through a range of modern-day media systems.
“You [Election Commission] are the inheritors of a rich tradition of conducting free and fair elections that has withstood the test of time over seventy years,” they added. “We urge you to continue the legacy of your eminent predecessors in maintaining the sanctity of the electoral process and safeguarding democracy.”