With the model code of conduct already in place for the Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat Assembly elections, transparency activists and Opposition leaders are questioning the timing of the government’s decision to open an additional seven-day window for the sale of electoral bonds on Wednesday.
A notification was issued by the Finance Ministry on Monday amending the Electoral Bond Scheme-2018 to allow an additional 15 days to sell electoral bonds during an election year (an Assembly year). Currently, the policy provides for the sale of electoral bonds for ten days in January, April, July, and October each year, with an additional 30-day period allowed during the year of the Lok Sabha elections. Also announced by the Ministry is the 23rd phase of the sale of bonds, which will take place from Wednesday until November 15, which coincides with the elections in Himachal Pradesh on Saturday and Gujarat on December 1 and 5. A municipal election is scheduled for December 4 in Delhi as well.
According to Prof Jagdeep S Chhokar, a founder of the election watchdog Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), this announcement is “most certainly in violation of the model code of conduct”. In the Supreme Court, the ADR was among those who challenged the electoral bond scheme. There will be a hearing on December 6 in this case.
There is a good chance that electoral bonds will be made available throughout the year. All floodgates have been opened. As a result, all electoral and judicial stipulations norms are entirely ignored. He stated that unaccounted money had become increasingly prominent in the country’s political scene.
Commodore Lokesh Batra (retired), a transparency activist, described the government’s decision as “shocking”, particularly since the case of the stay was scheduled to be heard by the Supreme Court very soon. In 2018, the government already allowed illegal sales of electoral bonds beyond the laid down period… Furthermore, elections happen throughout the year, so every year, there is an additional 15 days of the sale period. Whether the government has amended the 2018 notification in consultation with the RBI is unclear.
Among the petitioners in the Supreme Court is Sitaram Yechury of the Communist Party of India (Marxist).
Yet another tranche of electoral bonds was issued on the eve of the Gujarat elections. The 2018 legislation provided for the notification of four tranches annually. For each Assembly election, even the Supreme Court will hear challenges to its constitutional validity on December 6. The legalization of political corruption must be ended. Yechury tweeted, “Scrap electoral bonds.”.
A spokesperson for the Congress and head of its research department, Rajeev Gowda, said electoral bonds were “a fraud on democracy and fair elections”.
It has now become widely established that electoral bonds are a sophisticated and opaque method of filling the ruling party’s coffers. RTI requests and investigations have revealed that even the RBI and the Election Commission oppose the scheme. I fought electoral bonds in Parliament because they failed to meet transparency requirements, equality of playing field, and white money. It is hoped that the Supreme Court will soon hear petitions challenging the constitutionality of electoral bonds. It is indicative of the government’s scant regard for electoral norms and processes that it made another brazen amendment to the sale window,” Gowda stated.
A request for comment was not responded to by the Chief Election Commissioner Rajiv Kumar or the spokesperson for the poll agency.
(With inputs from Manoj C G)