Electoral bonds Current Affairs - 2019

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11th tranche of Electoral Bonds sale to start from July 1

Union Ministry of Finance recently announced the launch of 11th tranche of electoral bonds sale starting from 1-10 July. This is 1st issuance of electoral bonds after conclusion of 17th general elections and formation of new government.

What are Electoral Bonds?

Electoral bonds are being pitched as an alternative to cash donations made to political parties in a bid to bring transparency in political funding.

Background: The government notified the Electoral Bond Scheme in January 2018. As per the scheme, electoral bonds may be purchased by a person who is a citizen of India or an entity incorporated or established in India. A person can buy electoral bonds, either single or jointly or even with other individuals.

Exclusive Issuer: State Bank of India (SBI) is the only authorised bank to issue electoral bonds. In XI phase of electoral bonds sale, SBI has been authorised to issue and encash electoral bonds through its 29 authorised branches with effect from 1 to 10 July.

Eligibility: Those registered political parties that secured not less than 1% of votes polled in former election of Lok Sabha or legislative assembly will be eligible to receive electoral bonds.

Validity: Electoral bonds are valid for 15 calendar days from date of issuance and no payment is made to any payee political party if bonds are deposited after expiry of validity period. Electoral bond deposited by an eligible political party in its account will be credited on very same day.

Previous Tranche: The sale of 1st batch of electoral bonds was from 1-10 March 2018, 2nd phase 2-10 April, 3rd phase 1-10 May, 4th tranche 2-11 July, 5th 1-10 October, 6th phase 1-10 November, 7th phase 1-10 January and 8th phase 1-15 March, 9th phase 1-20 April and 10th between 6-15 May 2019.

Election Commission of India on Electoral Bonds

In an affidavit filed before the Supreme Court, the Election Commission of India has made the following observations:

  • Electoral bonds, contrary to government claims, wreck transparency in political funding.
  • Electoral bonds coupled with the removal of the cap on foreign funding invites foreign corporate powers to impact Indian politics.
  • Electoral bonds would cause a “serious impact” on transparency in the funding of political parties.

The Election Commission of India further criticises amendments made to various key statutes through the two consecutive Finance Acts of 2016 and 2017.

What were the amendments made?

The Finance Act of 2017 amends various laws, including the Representation of the People Act of 1951, the Income Tax Act and the Companies Act. The Finance Act of 2016 makes changes in the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act of 2010.

The amendment to Representation of the People Act allows political parties to skip recording donations received by them through electoral bonds in their contribution reports to the ECI.

The amendments introduced to the Income Tax Act allow anonymous donations. Donors to political parties are not required to provide their names, address or PAN if they have contributed less than Rs. 20,000. The Election Commission notes that many political parties have been reporting a major portion of the donations received as being less than the prescribed limit of Rs. 20,000.

The Finance Act of 2016 allowed donations to be received from foreign companies having a majority stake in Indian companies.

Observations by Election Commission

The Election Commission of India called these measures as a retrograde step and the ECI has no way to ascertain whether the donations were received illegally by the political party from government companies or foreign sources.

The Election commission also expressed concerns that these amendments would pump in black money for political funding through shell companies and allow unchecked foreign funding of political parties in India which could lead to Indian politics being influenced by foreign companies.