The government has not addressed any of the Election Commission’s concerns regarding electoral bonds, Chief Election Commissioner OP Rawat told The Economic Times on Monday. Rawat’s term is set to end in the first week of December.
Electoral bonds are monetary instruments that citizens can buy from the State Bank of India and give to a political party, which is then free to redeem them for money. Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had announced this mechanism in his Budget speech in 2017, claiming the government wanted to clean up political funding and make it a transparent process. The bank started selling the bonds from March this year.
However, the entire process is anonymous since no one is required to declare their purchase of these bonds and political parties do not need to declare the source of the money. The money is unlikely to be “black” since it has to be given by cheque, the government has reasoned.
“While we have not done a full assessment yet, prima facie I feel that none of our concerns have been addressed in the scheme notified on January 2,” Rawat told the newspaper. “Actually, there are many grey areas in this because when there is no ceiling on party expenditure and the EC cannot monitor it, how can you be sure that what is coming in is not black money as there is a secrecy of the donor.”
Foreign money or cash from a dying company can also be used now since a clause allowing donations from companies with a minimum profit of 7.5% in three years has been removed, Rawat said. “So, prima facie it appears the scheme cannot really deliver whatever it was intended to,” he said. “We have got contribution reports and audited reports of political parties and we will assess these, take a call and write to the government.”
When asked about the criticism of Electronic Voting Machines, Rawat said he felt the “loose talk and loose behaviour of poll officials” had created doubts.
“For example, in violation of our instructions, one polling officer took the EVM home with him when he went to lunch,” Rawat said. “Earlier, an uproar was caused when an EVM-VVPAT demo was done without the requisite first-level check: it showed a BJP symbol VVPAT slip and the officer in charge threatened journalists from writing about it. These things keep creating doubts in the mind of political leaders.”
He added that the people calling for a return to ballot paper are not being objective. “The ground reality is that people have realised that all the ills of the ballot system have been overcome by this machine,” he said. “We have taken into account the demand to increase the count of VVPAT slips and we will accept the formula that experts suggest.”