New Delhi: The sale of electoral bonds during the assembly elections in April this year was over 16 times more than what it was during the previous tranche of sales, in early January. This information was obtained from the State Bank of India through a Right to Information query.
Though the RTI applicant had also asked for details of the political parties which benefited from these donations, the SBI refused to share the same, saying it held the information in a fiduciary capacity.
SC refused to stay sale of electoral bonds during polls
Transparency activists and organisations have repeatedly urged the scrapping of the electoral bond scheme in its present form and charged that these anonymous bonds have “legalised corruption”. A petition in this regard was also filed in the Supreme Court by the Association for Democratic Rights in January this year. While refusing to grant an interim stay on the 2018 electoral bonds scheme, the apex court had sought responses from the Centre and the Election Commission on the interim application.
Thereafter, a fresh plea was also filed by the ADR seeking a stay on the opening of the window for sale of electoral bonds under the 16th phase before the elections in West Bengal, Kerala, Assam, Tamil Nadu and Puducherry. But the apex court refused to stay the scheme. A bench headed by then Chief Justice S.A. Bobde noted that bonds were allowed to be released in 2018 and 2019 without interruption, adding, “sufficient safeguards are there”.
Electoral bond sales rose from Rs 42.10 crore in January to Rs 695.34 crore in April
SBI, in response to a query filed by Bihar-based RTI activist Kanhaiya Kumar on April 16, provided the details of the sale of the electoral bonds in the 15th and 16th phases. While the 15th tranche of electoral bond sales had taken place from January 1 to 10 this year, the 16 tranche took place from April 1 to 10, by which time the assembly elections to the four states of Assam, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal and the Union Territory of Puducherry had begun.
While Assam voted in three phases from March 27, West Bengal had voted in eight phases. Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Puducherry had all voted in a single phase on April 6.
According to the details provided by SBI, while a total of 151 bonds worth Rs 42.10 crore were sold in the 15th phase, in the 16th phase, which fell right in the middle of the elections, a total of 974 bonds were sold in nine branches of the bank – as against just four during the 15th phase – and a sum of Rs 695,34,02,000 was raised through them.
The RTI reply also revealed that almost 80% of the sale posted by SBI in January came from electoral bonds of the denomination of Rs 1 crore.
Of all the bonds sold, 34 were of Rs 1 crore denomination, 78 of Rs 10 lakh denomination, 29 of Rs 1 lakh each and 10 of Rs 10,000 each.
The data revealed that the largest sale was recorded in the Kolkata Main Branch, which fell in the poll-bound state of West Bengal. Here, a total of 110 bonds worth Rs 35.75 crore were sold. The next highest sale was recorded in the Thiruvananthapuram Branch, again in the poll-bound state of Kerala, were a total of 19 bonds worth Rs 9.10 lakh were sold. In the Jaipur Main Branch, 14 bonds were sold but they were more in terms of value at Rs 5 crore. Apart from this, the only other branch in which the electoral bonds were sold was New Delhi Main, where eight bonds worth Rs 1.25 crore were sold.
SBI also disclosed that in the 15th phase, barring three electoral bonds of Rs 1 lakh each, all the other 148 electoral bonds were redeemed.
Rs 653 crore more was raised in 16th phase
The data provided by SBI also revealed that in the 16th phase of sale of electoral bonds, the total value of sale was nearly Rs 653 crore more than in the previous phase.
Here again, the data revealed that nearly 70% of all sales of electoral bonds took place in the highest denomination of Rs 1 crore. A total of 671 bonds of Rs 1 crore each were sold, followed by 237 bonds of Rs 10 lakh each, 64 of Rs 1 lakh denomination and two of Rs 1,000 each.
The branches of the SBI in the election-going states once again recorded the highest sales. The Kolkata Main Branch sold a total of 348 bonds of which 162 were of Rs 1 crore denomination, 137 of Rs 10 lakh and 49 of Rs 1 lakh each. Likewise, the Chennai Main Branch, in the election-going Tamil Nadu, recorded a sale of 156 bonds of which 140 were of Rs 1 crore each, and 10 lakh were of Rs 10 lakh denomination.
New Delhi Branch also posted high sales. Here a total of 199 bonds were sold and 165 of these were of Rs 1 crore each, 24 were of Rs 10 lakh each and 10 of Rs 1 lakh denomination. The Guwahati Branch in Assam also recorded a decent sale of 37 bonds of which one was of Rs 1 crore while 31 were of Rs 10 lakh each and five of Rs 1 lakh denomination.
Apart from these branches, the Gandhinagar Branch sold 24 bonds, Hyderabad Main Branch 96, Mumbai Main Branch 106 and the Panaji Branch three bonds.
The data provided by SBI also revealed that barring the two bonds of Rs 1,000 each, which were sold in the Chennai and Mumbai branch, all the other bonds were redeemed.
BJP was biggest beneficiary of past sales, SBI goes silent on issue this time
Past analyses of the electoral bond scheme have revealed the Bharatiya Janata Party to be the biggest beneficiary of the scheme, having cornered over 60% of the donations that came through it. In 2017-18 and 2018-19, while political parties received a total of Rs 2,760.20 crore from electoral bonds, the BJP got Rs 1,660.89 crore or 60.17% out of it.
This time, the SBI has refused to divulge the details of the beneficiaries. To Kumar’s query on the political party-wise details, it said this information was “third party personal information available with the Bank in its fiduciary capacity disclosure of which is exempted u/s 8(1)(e) and (j) of the RTI Act, hence denied”.
CIC earlier declared that disclosing names of donors will not be in public interest
Attempts by transparency activists to get the authorities to provide details of the donors of electoral bonds have not met with much success. In a significant ruling, the Central Information Commission in December 2020 held that disclosing the identities of the electoral bond scheme donors is not in the public interest.
To another RTI applicant, SBI also refused to provide the date-wise details of purchase of electoral bonds saying these were not compiled by it “centrally in its usual course of business” and that the “collection and collation of the said information from the branches all over India would disproportionately diver the resources of the public authority.”
Over 6.64 lakh electoral bonds printed at India Security Press in Nasik
The bank also disclosed in response to the RTI application that a total of 6,04,250 electoral bonds – of which 2,65,000 were of Rs 1,000 and 10,000 denomination each; 53000of Rs 1 lakh; 16,600 of Rs 10 lakh and 4650 of Rs 1 crore each — were printed at the India Security Press at Nasik in 2018. Similarly in 2019, a total of 60,000 electoral bonds were printed there of which 40,000 were of Rs 1 lakh each, 10,000 of Rs 10 lakh each and 10,000 of Rs 1 crore each.
The SBI also provided phase-wise data of the sale of the electoral bonds as per which a total of 13,898 electoral bonds worth a little over Rs 7,230 crore have been sold till date. Of these 6,686 were of Rs 1 crore denomination and 5,258 were of Rs 10 lakh each. This revealed that nearly half of the bonds sold were of the highest Rs 1 crore denomination.
Note: An earlier version of this article erroneously stated that the RTI query was filed by a Communist Party of India leader.