In just a year of their introduction in early 2018, electoral bonds edged out all other routes of political funding for as many as seven prominent political parties, including the BJP and the Congress, accounting for almost two-third of their total donations in 2018-19.
An analysis of annual audit reports of two national and five state political parties — BJP, Congress, TMC, BJD, JD(S), TRS and YSRCP — by Venkatesh Naik of the Common Wealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) shows that they received a total of Rs 3,696 crore from different sources including corporations, individuals, electoral trusts and electoral bonds.
However, 65.51 per cent of these donations are from electoral bonds alone.
Even individually, none of the seven political parties received less than half of its contributions through electoral bonds. The controversial funding instrument for anonymous donations made up anything between 55 per cent and 87 per cent of the total donations received by each of the parties from April 2018 to March 2019.
These seven political parties, Naik said, were selected for comparative analysis of proportion of bonds to total donations as they are the only ones that have declared receipts from electoral bonds in 2018-19.
The sale of the thirteenth tranche of electoral bonds started Monday and will continue till January 22 through 29 branches of the State Bank of India.
An opaque option
The numbers are significant because the Opposition, activists and the EC have criticised electoral bonds, primarily due to the opacity they bring in poll funding. A petition challenging the scheme is pending with the Supreme Court.
The introduction of electoral bonds in political funding has led to a sharp drop in donations made directly — and transparently — by corporations and also donations made through electoral trusts. Corporate donations, when not routed through bonds, have to be declared separately by political parties, if they are above Rs 20,000.
Only Congress, TRS and YSRCP declared contributions received directly from companies. While the Congress received 3.74 per cent of its contribution from corporations, for TRS and YSRCP this figure stood at 8.11 per cent and 10 per cent, respectively. That apart, only the Congress, TRS, YSRCP and BJD have declared that they received donations from electoral trusts.
Announced in the 2017 Union Budget, electoral bonds are interest-free bearer bonds that are used to donate money anonymously to political parties. The bonds are issued in multiples of Rs 1,000, Rs 10,000, Rs 1 lakh, Rs 10 lakh and Rs 1 crore, and SBI is the only bank authorised to sell them. Donors can donate the bonds to their party of choice, which can then be cashed by the party through its verified account within 15 days.
However, not all political parties have received donations through electoral bonds. Ruling parties during 2018-19 in states, such as JD(U), AAP, and AIADMK, and Opposition parties TDP, RJD, DMK, SAD, CPI, CPI-M, NCP, SP and BSP, did not receive any donation via bonds, even as their total collection ran into crores.
The annual audited reports of political parties are publicly available and submitted to the Election Commission.
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