Electoral Bonds: The Possible Quid Pro Quo Part2
Moneylife Digital Team 22 March 2024
Before the implementation of the electoral bonds scheme, companies were limited to donating only 7.5% of their average profits of the previous three years. This measure was intended to prevent unaccounted money from being funnelled through shell companies. However, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government removed this cap in 2017, enabling companies to clandestinely contribute funds far exceeding their profits to political parties. In the first part, we have highlighted some cases of possible quid pro quo
 
Wonder Cement: Wonder Cement has donated Rs20 crore using electoral bonds to political parties. A report by The Reporters Collective has found links between Wonder Cement and the Sohrabuddin Shaikh encounter case. As per the report, Wonder Cement is owned by Vimal Patni, who was accused in a high-profile encounter case involving several top BJP politicians and police officers from Gujarat and Rajasthan, including the then Gujarat state home minister and current Union home minister, Amit Shah. The charges against all the accused, including Mr Patni, were later dismissed at various stages of the trial.
 
According to the central bureau of investigation (CBI), which investigated the encounter case, Mr Shaikh allegedly attempted to extort money from Mr Patni, a marble trader from Rajasthan. Mr Shaikh was killed in a police encounter near Gandhinagar. Subsequently, his wife disappeared and one of his associates, Tulsiram Prajapati, was allegedly killed by the police.
 
Wonder Cement, which reported profits after tax amounting to nearly Rs250 crore in FY22-23, made a donation of Rs20 crore through electoral bonds. Additionally, four members of the Patni family (Ashok Patni, chairman; Suresh Patni, managing director; Vivek Patni, director; and Vineet Patni, president) collectively contributed Rs8 crore to political parties.
 
Sun Pharma Laboratories: Sun Pharma Laboratories Ltd (SPLL), a wholly-owned subsidiary of Dilip Shanghvi-led pharma major, Sun Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd, donated Rs31.5 crore using electoral bonds in FY19-20 to political parties. It was in two tranchesRs21.5 crore on 15 April 2019 and Rs10 crore on 8 May 2019.
 
SPLL faced opposition over its expansion of a bulk drug manufacturing unit in Tamil Nadu in 2022. The site was 3.7km from Vedanthangal Lake Bird Sanctuary but locals argued that the plant would harm the birds. State forest officials supported the community, revealing that the proposed site fell within the Vedanthangal Bird Sanctuary and overlapped an eco-sensitive zone of Karikili Birds Sanctuary, violating environmental laws.
 
However, the project received environmental clearance from the environment ministry a mere three months after application. Later in October 2023, the national green tribunal  (NGT) inquired with the environment ministry about the actions taken regarding the environmental clearance for the expansion project. It questioned whether the clearance would persist and if the ministry would reconsider withdrawing or pausing it. Subsequently, in February 2024, due to the NGT directive, the government halted the company's expansion plans.
 
Future Gaming And Hotel Services: Future Gaming And Hotel Services Pvt Ltd donated a whopping Rs1,368 crore in total since 2019, the largest buyer of electoral bonds. It is a Coimbatore-based company operating in legal and allegedly illegal lottery business (as alleged by the investigative agencies). 
 
The family is close to all political parties. Santiago Martin himself is seen to be close to the DMK. Mr Martin’s son-in-law is Adhav Arjun, who is with the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi or VCK which is part of the Congress-led INDIA alliance.
 
His son Jose Charles Martin had joined BJP in 2015 in the presence of RSS ideologue Ram Madhav. The website of the Martin Foundation describes him as follows: “Having been brought up around one of the best minds in the country, Charles Martin grew up to be a pioneering genius with a long-sighted vision of pursuing his greatest dream and aspiration of becoming one of the world’s best businessmen.”
 
Future Gaming’s assets worth Rs409 crore were attached by the directorate of enforcement (ED) in April 2022 in a money laundering investigation. Mr Martin has been facing a money laundering investigation since 2016 with the ED attaching property worth more than Rs910 crore. In FY20-21, the company donated Rs150 crore through the electoral bonds but had a profit before tax of just Rs84.79 crore and in FY21-22 the company donated as much as Rs544 crore while earning a profit before tax of just Rs84.46 crore. Moreover in FY22-23, the company donated Rs328 crore to political parties while profit before tax was at just Rs82.02 crore. As of now, he has emerged as the biggest donor to political parties.
 
RP Sanjiv Goenka Group: Two companies belonging to the Kolkata-based RP Sanjiv Goenka group, which were flagged by the comptroller and auditor general (CAG) for manipulating coal mine auctions, were among the top-10 contributors to political parties under the electoral bonds scheme. The two firms, together, donated a total of Rs485 crore through electoral bonds to political parties. 
 
Documents uncovered by The Reporters' Collective also exposed that the Union government unlawfully excluded a firm owned by the West Bengal government from the auction, thereby facilitating the victory of the Goenka group.
 
In the 2015 auction for the Sarisatolli coal block in West Bengal, an RP Sanjiv Goenka group company acquired a shell firm and presented it as a competitor alongside its flagship entities, Calcutta Electricity Supply Corporation (CESC) and Haldia Energy. Consequently, three out of the five bidders for the coal mine were affiliated with the conglomerate: CESC, Haldia Energy, and the newly acquired shell firm named Sheesham Commercial.
 
Among these subsidiaries, Haldia Energy abstained from bidding entirely. Interestingly, the shell company, procured just two days before the auction, submitted a bid from the same private internet protocol (IP) address utilised by its parent company and the bid-winning entity, CESC. This arrangement, according to CAG protocol, constituted a clear case of collusion. Additionally, Haldia Energy emerged as the fourth-largest donor through electoral bonds, contributing over Rs370 crore. Dhariwal Infrastructure, another company from the RP Sanjeev Goenka group, donated over Rs115 crore.
 
In its internal communications, CAG criticised the Union coal ministry over allegations of auction manipulation. However, in its public report, CAG refrained from explicitly naming any of the companies affiliated with the RP Sanjiv Goenka group.
 
Megha Group’s Donation: Megha Engineering and Infrastructure Ltd, a little-known Hyderabad-based company with a paid-up capital of Rs156 crore, acquired electoral bonds amounting to Rs966 crore, making it the second-largest donor since April 2019.
 
Megha group is owned by Krishna Reddy and is involved in many Central and state government projects with the biggest being the Rs1.51 lakh crore Kaleshwaram lift irrigation project on the Godavari river in Telangana, recognised as the world’s biggest. As per a CAG report,  the project has widespread irregularities in the scheme and concluded that it caused huge loss to the exchequer. 
 
In October 2019, the income-tax (I-T) department had raided the group for alleged irregularities. Olectra Greentech, a listed company winning many orders for electric buses which it manufactures in collaboration with Chinese car-maker BYD, is a subsidiary of Megha Engineering. Last year, the government rejected a US$1bn (billion) investment proposal of Megha and BYD to set up an EV plant.
 
Western UP Power Transmission Company Ltd (group company) of the Megha group, ranked as the seventh-highest purchaser of electoral bonds, operates as a power transmission company, responsible for laying transmission lines across Western Uttar Pradesh. The company has acquired electoral bonds worth Rs220 crore.
 
Two other companies within the Megha group, SEPC Power and Evey Trans Pvt Ltd, contributed Rs40 crore and Rs6 crore, respectively, between April 2019 and January 2024. This brings the combined electoral bond donations of the Megha group to Rs1,232 crore.
 
Megha Engineering and Infrastructure has demonstrated a consistent pattern of purchasing electoral bonds over the years:
 
Rs130 crore in 2019
 
Rs20 crore in 2020
 
Rs100 crore in 2021
 
Rs223 crore in 2022
 
Rs415 crore in 2023
 
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Comments
barokhoka1956
3 weeks ago
Possibly this system might be made legal in near future and it might be free for all for the Top Public Servants.
angelo.extross
4 weeks ago
We have heard that "Dog bites Man", but now are witnessing that "Man bites Dog"!
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