Indicating a clear change in its stance, months after the Election Commission (EC) expressed reservations about electoral bonds, Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) A K Joti on Thursday described the scheme “as one step towards the right direction.”
In an interview to The Indian Express last year, Joti’s predecessor, Nasim Zaidi, had said that the Commission feels electoral bonds will “impact transparency (in poll funding) negatively”.
That apart, the EC, in its submission to the Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice in May 2017 — when Joti was one of the Commissioners — had objected to the amendments in the Representation of the People (RP) Act which exempt political parties from disclosing donations received through electoral bonds.
It had described the move as a “retrograde step”. In a letter written to the Law Ministry the same month, the Commission had even asked the government to “reconsider” and “modify” the above amendment.
Joti became CEC in July last year.
Asked what had changed, he said: “Nothing has changed, what I am saying is that now there will be digital and banking trail of donations. That is one step towards the right direction. I have not said that it will solve all problems. The notification has taken place only few days back. So let it be rolled out and then we can get good feedback (on its impact).”
The upcoming state elections in Meghalaya, Tripura and Nagaland are the first to be held after the electoral bond scheme was notified by the government this month. These are 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.
At the time of its announcement, in Finance Minister Arun Jaitley’s Budget speech last year, electoral bonds were understood to be a way for companies to make anonymous donations. However, the fine print of the notification has revealed that even individuals, groups of individuals, NGOs, religious and other trusts are permitted to donate via electoral bonds without disclosing their details.
This means voters will not know which individual, company, or organisation has funded which party, and to what extent. Before the introduction of electoral bonds, political parties had to disclose details of all donors who have donated more than Rs 20,000.
The Finance Minister has defended the scheme on the ground that it will encourage political donations of “clean money” and “some element of transparency would be introduced in as much as all donors declare in their accounts the amount of bonds that they have purchased and all parties declare the quantum of bonds that they have received”.