Supreme Court still to make final decision on election bonds

By Nitya Chakraborty

The sale of the 21st tranche of the election bonds will take place this year from 1 to 10 July. Earlier this year, the last sale took place over ten days from April 1-10. Supreme Court Chief Justice NV Ramana gave an indication the same month that the SC would hear the pending petition against the sale of the electoral bonds. But even after three months since he gave the assurance, the petition has not been considered. The net result, the ruling party BJP takes a huge amount of money out of these bonds, giving a huge boost to its financial strength, which in turn is used to boost elections, or perhaps even overthrow well-functioning elected governments, as in Maharashtra .

Most major recognized state and state parties have submitted their Annual Audit Reports for the year 2020-21. Data from 2017-18 indicates that the number of EBs purchased and redeemed was lowest in 2020-21. While the three regional parties of YSRCP, DMK and BJD accounted for 75 percent of EBs redeemed in 2020-21, BJP maintains its position as the largest beneficiary with 65 percent of EBs redeemed through 2020-21. The total amount received by the BJP would be about Rs. 6900 crore during this period.

According to the information received from SBI in response to an RTI application, a total of 811 EBs worth Rs. 648.49 crores were sold during the 20th phase i.e. between April 1 and April 10, 2022. All purchased EBs were redeemed. This is about 53 percent of EBs sold in the immediately preceding stage in January 2022, when EBs were worth Rs. 1.21 thousand crores were sold by SBI during the 19th phase.

The 19th sales phase was ahead of the parliamentary elections of five states in February-March 2022, especially in the key state of Uttar Pradesh. Now the next parliamentary election is scheduled for the end of 2022 and before that another tranche of bonds could be released for sale.

Of the 811 bonds purchased in the final stage, 640 were EBs, i.e. 79 percent of the total bonds amounted to Rs. denomination of 1 crore. In comparison, EB’s share of bonds with a denomination of one crore in the 19th phase was 56 percent. In line with previous trends, lower-value bonds have a lower share. During the 20th phase, 79 EBs of Rs. 10 Lakh, 55 of Rs. 1 lakh and 37 EBs of Rs.10 thousand denominations were purchased.

Earlier, on March 24 last year, in its hearing on the election bond petition, the Supreme Court rightly expressed concern about the misuse of election bonds, but rejected the Democratic Rights Association’s prayer to keep the sale of the election bonds. As a result, bond sales continued and the BJP was able to mobilize huge funds in the parliamentary elections for the five states in February/March 2022.

The key point that the learned judges, most notably then-CJI SA Bobde, overlooked at the 2021 hearing was that this election bond issuance is only a small part of the BJP government’s systematic efforts since it took office. coming to power in 2014 to ensure the opposition parties through financial and thus their governance through financing from the big corporations. In addition, a unique system of consideration has been institutionalized in the Indian business world, which has never existed in the history of this country since Indian independence.

The functioning of democracy in the states in India and also in the center is threatened by this money power that has gotten out of hand. The level playing field has been lost for the non-BJP parties and all this has been possible thanks to the huge resources that the BJP has amassed through corporate donations, active support from the major merchants and the large supply of money by the overseas Indians nearby. of the BJP as well as the overseas religious organizations dominated by the VHP.

There is nothing wrong with the BJP in collecting funds from its supporters. It has the right to do this like any other political party. But the problem is when it changes the laws in its favor in a partisan way through its hold on the government and uses the central agencies to hunt down the moneylenders who somehow fund the opposition parties.

The use of central bodies such as ED, CBI and the IT department is so blatant that no company takes any risk of being involved with the Congress party, which is still the main opposition in the country. As a result, congressional treasuries have reached an all-time low and in many states that went for the polls, state congressional units desperately demanded more funds as they were outnumbered by the wealthy BJP.

The electoral bonds can be bought by the companies but the names will only be known to the issuer meaning the State Bank of India and not the Election Commission. This means that the names will be known to the central government, and so the few people who dared to donate some money to some opposition parties will be blacklisted. The big houses are generally dominated by businessmen of Hindu faith, they have general sympathy for the BJP and that has grown over the past two decades. However, many of them also feel a decline in democratic values ​​and are interested in making some donations to other non-BJP parties to level the playing field. Of course, with the electoral bonds, such an arrangement becomes increasingly risky. The companies are afraid.

Attorney General KK Venugopal presented a misleading picture at last year’s hearing in response to the CJI question when he said the bonds guaranteed white money, not black money through cash. The problem is really not that, the problem is transparency. Why does the central government and therefore the ruling party know who bought the bonds and in whose favor? Furthermore, this bond can be bought back, which opens up the possibility of dubious trades. It is a double benefit to the ruling party. Nowadays, no one takes the risk of making such transactions in favor of an opposition party as it will be known to the Ministry of Finance through SBI. There is no level playing field and this 2018 bond arrangement is disrupting the democratic functioning of the country.

Recently, in a speech in San Francisco, the CJI said that the country’s supreme judiciary is bound by the Constitution and only by the Constitution. That is the right spirit that should lead the Supreme Court to deal with the pending petition early so that the ruling party cannot take undue advantage of its dominance to undermine the process of democracy by changing laws and procedures in its favor. (IPA service)

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