Why are electoral bonds being sold in poll bound states until 20 Nov?

Shouldn’t the Supreme Court and Election Commission ask the issuer, State Bank of India, to also furnish details on electoral bonds by 19 November? What is the game here?

Commodore Lokesh K Batra's open letter on a violation of the model code of conduct by the Centre by announcing and conducting pan-India sale of EBs from 6 to 20 November
Commodore Lokesh K Batra's open letter on a violation of the model code of conduct by the Centre by announcing and conducting pan-India sale of EBs from 6 to 20 November

AJ Prabal

The Election Commission’s reminder to political parties to furnish details of electoral bonds received by them by 19 November makes little or no sense. These details are already available with the commission, contained in the annual returns submitted to the EC by political parties.

What the EC and parties do not know is the source of the bonds, and the identity of the purchasers. That is at the heart of the dispute before the Supreme Court, which has reserved its judgment on the issue. It is only the Union government, its agencies, and the State Bank of India which can furnish that information. It seems utterly pointless to ask political parties for such details, says retired commodore Lokesh Batra.

What is worse, the Supreme Court’s persistent refusal to stay the sale of the bonds, which are promissory notes in the nature of cash, has led to the piquant situation in which bonds are being sold across the country until 20 November. Isn’t this a violation of the model code of conduct (MCC), commodore Batra asked in a letter to the EC. He is yet to receive a reply.

Reporting Violation of MCC - An Open Letter to CEC dated 14-11-2023..pdf

Originally, the Finance Bill presented by then finance minister Arun Jaitley provided for just four windows every year for the sale of bonds, in January, April, August and October. Since then, the Union government has appropriated the right to notify the sale of bonds beyond these four windows.

The notification for the sale of bonds this month by designated branches of the State Bank of India in all states was issued in the first week of November and after the MCC came into force with elections notified in October in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Telangana and Mizoram.

While polling in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh will be over today, 17 November, polling in Rajasthan is due on 25 November and in Telangana on 30 November. The bonds were sold for 10 days in October as well, when bonds worth Rs 1,148 crore were purchased, Hyderabad in Telangana leading the charge with Rs 376 crore, each with the denomination of Rs 1 crore. What was then the justification for opening another window in November?

The reminder to political parties was issued on Tuesday this week by the EC requesting political parties, which are yet to furnish the information regarding bonds received by them, to expedite the matter and furnish it to the commission in a sealed envelope. According to available information, only 25 political parties are eligible to receive the bonds and have opened separate bank accounts to receive them.

The reminder was sent to all political parties by the EC as a follow-up of its letter dated 3 November which had asked "all such parties" which have ever got any donation through electoral bonds to furnish by 15 November the details of such contributions received by them since the inception of the scheme.

The Supreme Court had on 2 November directed the election panel to produce before it in a sealed cover the "up to date" data of funds received by political parties through electoral bonds until 30 September. The exercise, the court directed, had to be carried out on or before November 19 2023 and the data in a sealed packet should be handed over to the registrar (judicial) of the court.

The EC, in the 3 November letter, had also asked the political parties to share detailed particulars of the donors against each bond, the amount of each bond and the full particulars of the credit received against each bond---knowing fully well that such information is not available with the political parties.

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