Updated: November 22, 2019 2:33:10 pm
A day after raking up the issue of electoral bonds in both the Houses—Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, the Congress Friday protested outside Parliament premises, demanding Prime Minister Narendra Modi to break his silence on the issue.
Several senior Congress leaders, including Ghulam Nabi Azad, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, Shashi Tharoor, and Manish Tewari joined the protest, alleging that the government is a “factory of lies”.
The electoral bonds scheme floated by the NDA government came under scrutiny after reports revealed how the Finance Ministry brushed aside objections raised by institutions such as the Reserve Bank of India and the Election Commission of India and pushed ahead with the scheme without addressing any of their concerns. According to a HuffPost India report, the RBI said that electoral bonds and an amendment to the RBI Act as sought by the Finance Ministry would set a bad precedent. Electoral bonds, the RBI said, would effectively be a type of “bearer bond”, a notoriously opaque financial instrument that carries no trace of its ownership.
As per the report, RBI’s concerns were dismissed by then Revenue Secretary Hasmukh Adhia in a single short paragraph the same day the finance ministry received the RBI letter.
Two days later, on February 1, 2017, then Finance Minister Arun Jaitley proposed the creation of electoral bonds and the amendment to the RBI Act. The next month, the proposals became law with the passage of the Finance Bill 2017.
Citing documents on the scheme obtained by transparency activist Commodore Lokesh Batra (retd) under the Right to Information Act, HuffPost India detailed in a series of reports how the scheme was announced in Budget 2017-18. Since March 2018, electoral bonds worth at least Rs 6,128.72 crore were issued, and Rs 6,108.47 crore encashed. The BJP garnered 95 per cent of the Rs 222 crore bonds issued in the first tranche of bonds, according to data compiled by the Association for Democratic Reforms.
While the Congress demanded a joint parliamentary committee inquiry into the “opaque” donations, Union minister Piyush Goyal hit back at the main opposition party. He said that an “alliance of defeated and dejected corrupt politicians” do not want clean, tax-paid transparent money to fund elections.
On Thursday, the Congress had created a ruckus in both the Houses after the matter of electoral bonds was not allowed to be taken up for discussion. As MPs stormed into the Well of the House, Speaker Om Birla showed the rulebook and urged the protesting MPs to maintain the dignity of the House.
“I am a new member. You are senior. Don’t come to the Well. Maintain the convention,” Birla said, to which Chowdhury replied that Birla is the chair of the House and the opposition is forced to give adjournment motion notices to discuss the important issues and not disrespect the chair.
“You are not new. You are the chair of the House. We are forced to give the adjournment motions to raise very important issues, not to disrespect the chair. We have given the notice because this is a big scam. The country is being looted,” Chowdhury said.
The Finance Bill, 2017 introduced “Electoral bonds” as interest-free bearer instruments (like Promissory Notes) that will be available for purchase from the State Bank of India within a designated window of 10 days in every quarter of the financial year.
The scheme, which was notified on January 2, 2018, allows individuals and domestic companies to present these bonds — issued in multiples of Rs 1,000, Rs 10,000, Rs 1 lakh, Rs 10 lakh, and Rs 1 crore — to political parties of their choice, which have to redeem them within 15 days.
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