Electoral Bonds: Common Cause and CPIL Seek SIT Probe into Money Trail, File Petitions before SC
Moneylife Digital Team 24 April 2024
Common Cause, a non-government organisation (NGO), and the Centre for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL) have filed a petition in the Supreme Court seeking a detailed investigation by a special investigation team (SIT) into the money trail of the electoral bonds scheme.
 
The petitions, filed through advocate Prashant Bhushan, allege that in the electoral bond scam, some of the country's main investigative agencies such as the central bureau of investigation (CBI), enforcement directorate (ED) and the income-tax (I-T) department appear to have become accessories to corruption and hence there is a need for probe by an SIT. 
 
The petitions say, "The electoral bond data that has been revealed shows that the bulk of the bonds appear to have been given as quid pro quo arrangements by corporates to political parties for getting contracts, licences, leases, clearances and approvals worth thousands and sometimes lakhs of crores and other benefits from the governments or authorities controlled by the governments which were in turn controlled by the political parties that received those bonds,  electoral bonds given in close proximity to action by agencies like the ED, I-T, and CBI raising suspicion of it being protection money to avoid or stall action by or in exchange for regulatory inaction by various regulators like the drug controller and electoral bonds given as a consideration for favourable policy changes."
 
They say, “In several cases, the donations appear to have been made in blatant violation of the regulatory framework governing contributions by companies to political parties. Section 182(1) of the Companies Act prohibits any government company or any company having been in existence for less than three years from making contributions to political parties. Yet perusal of the data disclosed on electoral bonds, shows that at least 20 companies bought electoral bonds within three years of their incorporation. The donations by such companies total more than Rs100 crore. In some cases, the companies were just a few months old when they purchased bonds, in flagrant violation of the provisions of the Companies Act.”
 
"Though these apparent pay-offs amount to several thousand crores, they appear to have influenced contracts worth lakhs of crores and regulatory inaction by agencies worth thousands of crores and also appear to have allowed substandard or dangerous drugs to be sold in the market, endangering the lives of millions of people in the country. That is why the electoral bonds scam has been called by many astute observers as the largest scam in India so far, and perhaps in the world," they say.
 
In February this year, the Supreme Court struck down the electoral bond scheme which allowed anonymous donations to political parties because it violated the right of the people to be informed about who is donating how much to political parties that could lead to quid pro quo arrangements between corporates and governments headed by these political parties. It also distorts the level playing field by giving a massive advantage to parties in power, the SC says.
 
While striking down the electoral bonds scheme as unconstitutional, the apex court directed State Bank of India (SBI), the issuer bank, to stop issuing electoral bonds. The SC also directed SBI to submit details of electoral bonds purchased from 12 April 2019 to the election commission of India (ECI).
 
Saying that financial contribution to a political party could lead to quid pro quo arrangements, the bench led by chief justice DY Chandrachud ruled that by anonymising contributions to the political parties, the electoral bonds scheme infringes upon the right to information of the voter provided under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution.
 
The petitions filed by Common Cause and CPIL also highlight donations through electoral bonds by companies making losses and shell companies. It says, "Data has further shown that various loss-making companies and shell companies were donating huge sums to political parties through electoral bonds. Data suggests that the introduction of electoral bonds led to the mushrooming of shell companies, which were used by corporate houses as conduits to launder illicit money. This is evident from the fact that many companies having little or no profits gave large donations to many political parties, especially the ruling party. In this way, laundered money has found its way into the coffers of the political parties. The source of funds donated by these shell companies is unknown and a matter of investigation since the names and know your customer (KYC) status of these companies have evidently been used by other entities to launder their illicit money and curry favour with the political parties in power." 
 
Reports indicate that some companies have spent multiples of their annual profits to donate to political parties through electoral bonds. Additionally, some companies have allegedly used indirect methods to purchase these bonds. Perhaps the most troubling issue is the allegations that central investigative agencies like the ED, I-T department, and CBI have been deployed as a means to compel companies to make donations.
 
Data from SBI suggests that at least 14 out of the top-30 companies which purchased electoral bonds between 12 April 2019 and 24 January 2024 have faced action by Central or state probe agencies. (Read: Electoral Bonds: The Possible Quid Pro Quo- Part1 / Electoral Bonds: The Possible Quid Pro Quo Part2
 
As pointed out by EAS Sarma, former secretary to the government of India (GoI), corporate entities by themselves are not voters and, therefore, a gift given by a company is not equivalent to a voter giving his/ her humble contribution to a political party. When a private company gifts a sizeable amount to a political party, it is certainly not out of its love for democracy. Since private companies' decisions are mostly profit-driven, when they donate to the party in power, they expect favours in return. (Read: Electoral Bond: Blood Money, Ransom, or Outright Bribe?)
 
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Comments
Pragna Mankodi
2 months ago
Nobody either in politics or business is Saint. Both have their own agenda either of sticking to power or to increase the profits. Which party will get how much is decided by their winnability. If Electoral Bonds are looked at from that angle and interpreted, then there is no higher danger to democracy than EB. We, as a country, do need legislation to curb the menace of black money when the majority of the politicians are rogues and the electorate is required to choose lesser evil. There can be room for improvement in legislation but we can\'t simply say that EBs are evil. Taking such an important matter to litigation is, according to me, a sheer waste of time of all involved in the process.
parimalshah1
2 months ago
This guy's imagination knows no bound. Why is he not writing some thriller novels? He may make more money and earn less brickbats.
murali
2 months ago
Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely
At the end of the day basic needs of common man for obtaining plan approval registration work certificates etc never easy without greasing palms
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