The government suggested the possibility and then dropped the idea of seeking comments from national and state political parties of India and the general public on the structure of electoral bonds, reveal official file noting accessed under the Right to Information Act by Anjali Bharadwaj of the National Campaign for People’s Right to Information.
Records show that on August 21, 2017, Prashant Goyal, then Joint Secretary (in the Budget division of the DEA), made a note that stated: “Secy EA (Subhash Chandra Garg, then Secretary in the Department of Economic Affairs of the Finance Ministry) made a presentation of the draft structure of the Electoral Bond Scheme to the PM today in line with the approval and directions of the FM… Based on the ensuing discussion, the following broad structure of the Scheme emerged…”
The note listed five broad points detailing specifics such as the denomination in which the bonds will be available, their maturity date etc.
The fifth point ended with: “Also, a view may be taken on the following issues: (1) Whether consultation with Political Parties needs to be carried out on the proposed Scheme? If yes, whether Scheme may be circulated to all National and State parties with a 15 days window to submit draft comments? (2) Whether the draft Scheme needs to be opened to public for comments by hosting it on MoF website?”
However, this part is struck out by pen on the note dated August 21, and on the very next day, August 22, Goyal wrote a new note which dropped these queries summarily. The fifth point on the new note simply stated: “Hon’ble FM may approve the proposed structure of Scheme as outlined above.”
On the government dropping the proposal for wider discussion, Bharadwaj said this shows the “total lack of political will to open the Electoral Bond Scheme to public scrutiny and subject it to a robust process of deliberation”.
According to Bharadwaj, amendments to the Finance Act, 2017 to enable the Electoral Bond Scheme and the scheme itself “were brought in a completely surreptitious manner in flagrant violation” of procedures laid down in the Pre-Legislative Consultation Policy of 2014. This policy requires all draft legislation and subordinate legislation to be placed in the public domain for comments/suggestions of people. Further, Section 4 of the RTI Act mandates the government to publish all relevant facts while formulating important policies.
Incidentally, when political parties were approached by the Finance Minister earlier in the year, many of them complained that there was no draft proposal on which they could respond. In fact, some expressly demanded a draft before providing their response.
For instance, in a letter dated May 30, Motilal Vora of the Congress stated: “The budget speech indicated that a scheme will be framed by the government, but we have not been able to locate such as scheme. We, therefore, have only the budget speech and some comments that you made in April to the media… We would be able to comment further only after we have studied the scheme promised to be made by the government.”
Mayawati, who heads the BSP, in a letter dated May 15, stated: “… for the purposes of giving effective and proper suggestions it would be appreciated and helpful if you could furnish some draft proposal of the scheme as is being or has been conceived by the government”.
Sudhakar Reddy, CPI general secretary, wrote the following on May 25 in a letter to the Finance Minister: “I do remember your speech in Parliament… The Electoral bonds scheme was also announced without details at that time”.
An email to Goyal seeking his comments remained unanswered till Friday night.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines