Electoral bonds to the tune of Rs 62,10,39,47,000, or Rs 6,210 crore, printed over 13 phases, were sold since 2018 till March, according to the State Bank of India’s reply to a Right to Information Act query, reported the Hindustan Times.
The RTI query, filed by transparency activist Commodore Lokesh Batra (Retired), revealed that almost 6,60,000 electoral bonds had been printed till March 19, but only 12,452 were sold till then.
The Centre had notified the electoral bond scheme on January 2, 2018. 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. These bonds are anonymous. The scheme was notified in January 2018. These bonds are issued four times every year in January, April, July and October. This year, they were issued only in January and October.
Till March, only 47 electoral bonds worth Rs 1,000, as many as 70 bonds of Rs 10,000 and 1,722 bonds worth Rs 1 lakh were sold, the newspaper reported. Besides this, 4,911 electoral bonds worth Rs 10 lakh, and 5,702 bonds of Rs 1 crore were also sold.
Almost 92% of the printed Rs 1 crore electoral bonds, and around 7% of the bonds worth Rs 10 lakh were sold. The rest of the denominations, nearly 1% of the total printed, have barely been sold.
Out of the bonds printed, 12 were cancelled. Of these, one was worth Rs 1,000 and the remaining were worth Rs 10 crore. “The department of economic affairs hasn’t shared the reason for their cancellation,” Batra told Hindustan Times.
Printing the electoral bonds cost Rs 1.85 crore since the beginning of the scheme in 2018. A review of the details on the electoral bonds that were printed and sold showed a significant wastage of money as a large number of the lower denominations remain unsold, according to The Week.
The RTI query revealed that the overall number of bonds printed in 2018 and 2019 was 6,64,250, therefore the cost of printing the bonds amounts to Rs 1,85,99,000, or over Rs 1.85 crore.
“The cost of printing electoral bonds is borne by the government,” the activist said, according to The Week. “In other words, it is the tax payers’ money which is spent on it.” He said that the sale of the denominations showed that “only rich corporates” were buying these electoral bonds.
Batra also referred to a letter from the Bharatiya Janata Party to former Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley in 2017, pushing for printing of electoral bonds with smaller denominations. The petitioner claimed that this led to an enormous waste of bonds, and taxpayers’ money.
Since 2018, the central government printed 2.65 lakh electoral bonds with values of Rs 1,000 and Rs 10,000 but only 118 were sold. This raised doubts on the Centre’s planning and implementation of the scheme.
Meanwhile, the State Bank of India sold electoral bonds worth more than Rs 282.29 crore ahead of the Bihar Assembly elections. Batra had sought a “branch-wise and denomination-wise” information on the sale of electoral bonds between October 19 and October 28.
The Union Ministry of Law and Justice had approved the Narendra Modi-led government’s decision to hastily pass the electoral bonds scheme, bypassing the Rajya Sabha, despite putting on record that the government’s strategy was illegal and unconstitutional, HuffPost India had reported in January. In a two-page note, the law ministry said this illegal strategy was a “one-off exception” and urged the government to avoid using this method as a precedent, the documents reviewed by the news website showed.
To bring in the scheme, the Centre had amended various provisions of the Reserve Bank of India Act, Representation of People Act, Income Tax Act, Companies Act and Foreign Contribution Regulation Act. These amendments were passed as a money bill and hence the assent of Rajya Sabha, where the Bharatiya Janata Party does not have a majority, was not required.