Shri Rajiv Kumar
Chief Election Commissioner
Shri A C Pandey
Dear S/Shri Rajiv Kumar and Pandey,
I wonder whether the Election Commission of India (ECI) has come across two successive statutory notifications, one issued on 29-9-2022 (“State Bank of India (SBI), in the XXII Phase of sale, has been authorised to issue and encash Electoral Bonds through its 29 Authorized Branches (as per list enclosed) w.e.f. 01.10.2022 to 10.10.2022″) and another on 7-11-2022 (” State Bank of India (SBI), in the XXIII Phase of sale, has been authorised to issue and encash Electoral Bonds through its 29 Authorized Branches (as per list enclosed) w.e.f. 09.11.2022 to 15.11.2022″), which implies an inexplicable enlargement of the window from 70 days to 85 days for receiving Electoral Bonds, as recently as on 7-11-2022, more than a month after the earlier notification issued on 29-9-2022.
It is significant that this notification should be issued at a time when the Model Code of Conduct is in force in connection with the Assembly elections in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh!
It is equally significant that such notifications should be issued at a time when the legality of the Electoral Bond scheme itself is under judicial scrutiny before the highest court in India.
Apparently, the Ministry of Finance that has issued this extraordinary notification, has neither shown due respect for the ongoing judicial proceedings nor it has cared to respect the sanctity of the Model Code of Conduct.
Going by the past track record of the Electoral Bond scheme, it has so far helped the political party in power at the Centre to fill its coffers for electioneering, much more than the other political parties. Also, the Scheme appears to have provided an anonymous channel for business houses to fund political parties, in return for questionable quid pro quos, including tweaking of official policies and regulations to help them maximise their profits at the cost of public interest. An independent investigation into the source of funding of the Scheme, the parties that benefitted and the changes in policies and regulations that helped the donors will, I am sure, corroborate this position.
The Electoral Bond scheme has disturbed the level playing ground between the ordinary voter and big businesses, as also between small political parties and the more affluent ones.
Against this background, a concerned citizen like me is constrained to draw an inference that the Electoral Bond scheme is nothing but a non-transparent channel for the ruling political party to receive large donations to fund itself from corporate sources, at the cost of the ordinary citizens, so as to enable itself to splurge money to induce voters to vote for it and even for inducing elected legislators to defect from one party to the other. These amount to corrupt practices which will be established if the Commission undertakes an impartial investigation.
In the instant case, I feel that the notification dated 7-11-2022 issued by the Ministry of Finance is ill-timed, improper, amounting to the ruling political party openly flouting the Model Code of Conduct, ignoring the ongoing proceedings before the apex court and enlarging the window for it to continue to receive donations in a highly non-transparent manner, disturbing the level playing ground between itself and the other political parties.
I feel that it is a fit case for the Commission to issue a show-cause notice to the government immediately, before it becomes a fait accompli, to revoke the notification forthwith, failing which the scheduled elections will be deferred, as otherwise, the Commission would be allowing the ruling political party, to take undue advantage of the political executive’s statutory authority, to enrich itself to the disadvantage of the other political parties. In turn, this would adversely affect the integrity of the electoral process.
As an authority owing its existence to Article 324 of the Constitution and having the responsibility of conducting elections in a free and a fair manner, the Commission would not only have the authority but also has the obligation to take stringent, deterrent action on the above cited notification, as otherwise it would be passively giving license to the political executive to ride roughshod over the sanctity of the electoral process.
May I appeal to you to intervene urgently?
E A S Sarma
Former Secretary to Government of India