The State Bank of India has already issued electoral bonds worth Rs 1,716.05 crore in the first two rounds of sales this year. In comparison, bonds worth Rs 1,056.73 crore were issued in six rounds in all of 2018, data given by the bank in response to a Right to Information plea showed.
Electoral bonds are monetary instruments that citizens or corporate groups can buy from the State Bank of India and give to a political party, which is then free to redeem them for money. The Centre had first introduced electoral bonds in January 2018.
The RTI plea filed by Pune resident Vihar Durve sought details of the total amount of electoral bonds issued in 2018 and 2019 in major cities, including Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, Chennai and Bengaluru. The bank issued electoral bonds in six rounds in 2018 – March, April, May, July, October and November – and in two rounds in 2019 – January and March.
In Mumbai, electoral bonds worth Rs 382.70 crore and Rs 495.60 crore were issued in 2018 and 2019, while bonds worth Rs 147.06 crore were issued in 2018 and Rs 205.92 crore in 2019 in Delhi.
To a query on whether this information is available on the bank’s official website, the RTI response said “no such web or link is maintained”.
Durve told Scroll.in that the introduction of electoral bonds was just “self-serving apprehension or doubt created by the government”. He said the government’s reason behind it was “apprehension or fake apprehension” that donors would be blackmailed or threatened and “hence better not to have donors’ name in public domain”. However, the Election Commission told him in response to another RTI plea that there was no blackmailing or threats to donors, he said.
‘Serious impact on transparency of funding’
On March 27, the Election Commission had filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court, saying that the introduction of electoral bonds and the removal of the cap on corporate funding by the Narendra Modi-led government will have a “serious impact” on the transparency of political funding. The court was hearing a petition filed by the Association of Democratic Reforms, challenging the validity of the scheme of electoral bonds.
However, the Centre had told the Supreme Court in March that the decision to issue the bonds would promote transparency in funding and donations received by political parties.
The Supreme Court is set to hear the plea filed by the Association of Democratic Reforms next on Tuesday, PTI reported.
In December 2018, the government had claimed in the Rajya Sabha that it had not received “any concerns” from the Election Commission on electoral bonds. Documents available with RTI activist and retired commodore Lokesh Batra, however, showed that the director of election expenditure in the Election Commission had written to the Centre on May 26, 2017, raising concerns on transparency in political funding with regard to electoral bonds, reported The Telegraph.
Batra told Scroll.in on Monday that the Supreme Court must immediately take note of the Association of Democratic Reforms application for a stay.
Former Chief Election Commissioner OP Rawat in November 2018 had said that the government had not addressed any of the poll panel’s concerns regarding electoral bonds.