In the second part of the investigation published on Tuesday morning, HuffPost India, based on documents accessed under RTI by Commodore(Rtd) Lokesh Batra, the Modi Government’s manipulations to hide the details of the electoral bond scheme are revealed.
In the first part published on Monday, HuffPost India had shown how the Government had kept the Reserve Bank of India in the dark, failed to consult it and, finally, overruled its objections saying that the advice had come too late and because the budget papers had already been printed.
In the second part on Tuesday, the report establishes that
· The Modi Government lied on the floor of the Parliament while informing that it had received no communication or objection to the electoral bond scheme.
· Once the lie was called out, the finance ministry came up with the alibi that the misgivings of the Election Commission were not received by the finance ministry ( it was sent by ECI to the Law ministry which had forwarded it to finance).
· Even after the Election Commission persisted in opposing the scheme, the finance ministry sought to whitewash the objections and downplay the ECI’s apprehensions.
· Finally, in order to give a semblance of a consultative process, the finance ministry under Arun Jaitley wrote to political parties, seeking their comments. But when the political parties, including the Congress treasurer Motilal Vohra, wrote back to demand details of the scheme, the ministry maintained radio silence and did not share the details with the parties.
The documents in question were obtained under the Right to Information Act by transparency activist Commodore Lokesh Batra (Retd.), which include a letter issued by Election Commission of India (ECI) dated May 26, 2017 addressed to the Legislative Department, Ministry of Law and Justice, almost four months after the Finance Bill, 2017 containing the scheme was presented.
This letter (image below), drew the Government’s attention to the “ serious impact on Transparency aspect of political finance/funding of political parties”. It also stated that, “…the abolition of relevant provisions of Sec 182 (of the Companies Act) would lead to increased use of black money for political funding through shell companies”.
The ECI’s letter was duly shared with the Ministry of Finance, but the latter never acknowledged receiving the same despite the issue snowballing into a controversy in Parliament. This saw the then Minister of State for Finance P Radhakrishnan replying to the question raised by Rajya Sabha MP Mohammad Nadimul Haque from AITC in the Winter Session of Parliament: ‘Had the Election Commission of India raised concerns about electoral bonds?’
To this, Radhakrishnan replied that the government had not received “any concerns from the Election Commission on the issue of Electoral Bearer Bonds”.
Documents, however, reveal that the ministry had bent over backwards to allay doubts voiced by the Election Commission, misleading it in the process. Even later the finance secretary, as late as October, 2018, met the Election Commissioners and claimed that the Commission’s doubts were misplaced.
Three senior bureaucrats later came up with six different convoluted explanations to try and cover up the minister lying on the floor of the Parliament.
The Supreme Court is currently hearing a petition on the legality of such bonds.
The links to the earlier reports in NH and Huffpost India are as follows: