Will Electoral Bonds Usher In Transparency?Will Electoral Bonds Usher In Transparency?

Let me begin right at the very beginning by first and foremost pointing out very explicitly that secrecy and non-disclosure of names of donors can never usher in transparency no matter how tall claims the government may make repeatedly through its eminent and senior leaders. Why should there be any secrecy at all? Why can’t there be full and fair disclosure of names of all donors who donate to political parties?
                                     Why this hush-hush secrecy of not disclosing names of donors on one pretext or the other? Why is Centre not making any serious effort to make sure that nothing is hidden by politicians and that everything is disclosed by them relating to payment which they receive from different sources? Why is Centre offering just lame excuses for not disclosing the names of all the donors who donate generously to political parties?    
                                              Why under this electoral bond scheme the donor’s identity won’t be revealed to the beneficiaries? What is there for politicians to hide? Why Centre wants full transparency from people but not from politicians? Why can’t politicians too reveal every money which they get from different sources for fighting elections just like any other common person? Why special exemptions for political parties and politicians? Do they deserve this?      
                                  Why government is trying to project this electoral bond as most viable method on cleaning up poll funding without making the names of donors public? Why on one hand Arun Jaitley claims that the present system ensures unclean money coming from unidentifiable sources and most political groups seem fairly satisfied with the arrangement and would not mind this status-quo to continue but on the other hand makes sure that even under the electoral bonding method the names of donors are not made public? What sort of transparency is this?
                               Why on one hand Arun Jaitley claims that the effort, therefore, is to run down any alternative system which is devised to cleanse up the political funding mechanism but on the other hand throws up another opaque system which protects the identity of the donors from being made public? How can any sane person support another opaque system with just few minor changes? Why can’t there be full transparency with nothing hidden from the public?      
                            It is noteworthy that the government on January 2 had notified electoral bonds as a new instrument for donations to political parties. Arun Jaitley has himself said that, “The government is willing to consider all suggestions to further strengthen the cleansing of political funding in India. It has to be borne in mind that impractical suggestions will not improve the cash-dominated system.” Who can be better equipped than Arun Jaitley himself who has been a senior lawyer of Supreme Court and also Union Law Minister to understand best that not disclosing the names of donors will only make sure that even those involved in wrong activities too can donate money without their name being made in public? How can this be justified under any circumstances?
                                  Truth be told, under the new system the prospective donors will be required to buy interest-free electoral bonds of designated denominations which they will forward to the parties of their choice. The donors’ identity won’t be revealed to beneficiaries. Jaitley says this is needed to discourage cash donations. He does not say why and how. In any case, it’s far from certain why the present system of cash donations will cease with the advent of electoral bonds as the role of cash in the electoral battle will continue to remain as dominant as before if not more! Who can dispute or deny this?
                                       It must also be revealed here that the life of the electoral bond would be only 15 days. A bond can only be encashed in a pre-declared account of a political party. Every political party in its returns will have to disclose the amount of donations it has received through electoral bonds to the Election Commission. The entire transactions would be through banking instruments. Jaitley reveals that as against a total non-transparency in the present system of cash donations where the donor, the done, the quantum of donations and the nature of expenditure are all undisclosed, 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.
                              To be sure, Jaitley also reveals that, “How much each donor has distributed to a political party would be known only to the donor. This is necessary because once this disclosure is made, past experience has shown, donors would not find the scheme attractive and would go back to the less desirable option of donating by cash. In fact the choice has now to be consciously made between the existing system of substantial cash donations which involves total unclean money and is non-transparent and the new scheme which gives the option to the donors to donate through entirely a transparent method of cheque, online transaction or through electoral bonds. While all three methods involve clean money, the first two are totally transparent and the electoral bonds scheme is a substantial improvement in transparency over the present system of no transparency.” Jaitley has a valid point. But even this method is not perfect.   
                                  I have absolutely no hesitation in concluding that a wrong is a wrong whether it is a smaller or a bigger wrong. The present  system of electoral bonds may be definitely a better alternative than the earlier one but even this too has many shortcomings. These shortcomings too needs to be removed and the system of electoral funding must be made totally transparent with no room for secrecy of any kind!
                                       Jaitley has rightly said in a Face book post that India has not been able to evolve a transparent political funding system, despite being the largest democracy in the world. But now his government has been in power since the last four years. So he cannot offer any excuses for India not having been able to evolve a transparent political funding system. It is the bounden duty of his government to make sure that the system of poll funding is made totally transparent and there is no room for secrecy of any kind in any form which will only serve to further enhance the reputation of his government in the Centre!
                                 According to the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), almost 70 percent of the Rs 113 billion of party funding received over an 11-year period came from unknown sources. What makes matters even more worse is that the Centre in 2016 retrospectively amended the Foreign Contributions Regulation Act (FCRA) to redefine the status of London-headquartered multinational Vedants, which had contributed to the BJP and the Congress party after the Delhi High Court held that both parties – BJP and Congress were guilty of violating FCRA rules. Neither party has been made to penalize for this blatant violation of all rules!
                                      How can this be ever justified? Who can justify the decision to not disclose the names of donors under the electoral bonds scheme which will only serve to promote the dangerous trend of opacity in political funding? How can this be denied that most private donors prefer anonymity for fear of reprisals from political parties and they would still prefer to continue with cash donations under the Rs 2000 slab as is enumerated under Section 29C of the Representation of the People Act as also via electoral trusts as it is here that anonymity is better maintained?   
                                  Why Centre is just aiming to reduce the big role that unaccounted cash has in the electoral process of electing candidates? Why Centre does not care to do more to address the need to have public accountability of sources of political funding? Why Centre has drawn a Lakshman Rekha that this naming of donors can never be done?
                                   Why Centre is not ready to bring in more transparency rather is seen to be eschewing transparency in this new method of electoral bonding? Why all the great legal luminaries in the Cabinet of Centre have failed thoroughly to work out on this in a satisfactory manner? Why is Arun Jaitley expecting the people to do the homework on this score?
                                       He himself is such a great legal luminary! Why can’t he work out himself a fair and transparent system of electoral funding? Why can’t a roadmap be put forward by Centre with clear timelines and with the ultimate aim of ushering in complete transparency in the system of political funding?
                                Why Centre fails to appreciate that just introducing electoral bonds will not usher in transparency in the electoral system unless accompanied by other corollary measures? Why there is no clarity right now on how much a party or a candidate spends in an election and from where all they get funding for fighting  their elections? Why there is no mechanism to monitor the spending of money by parties and candidates during elections?
                                    Why parties are not asked to show their source of funding which are dubious in many cases? Why no strict penalty is imposed against any political party who is found to have acquired huge money from “unexplained sources”? Why political parties are exempted from disclosing the name of donors received from foreign countries?  Unless this is done, all other steps will prove to be “an exercise in futility”! Also, foreign countries by donating lavishly can subjugate our country indirectly and remote control them through their representatives in Delhi! Who can deny this possibility can never happen under any circumstances?
Sanjeev Sirohi, Advocate,
s/o Col BPS Sirohi,
A 82, Defence Enclave,
Sardhana Road, Kankerkhera,
Meerut – 250001, Uttar Pradesh.
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