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Controlling political donations, a leap back to era of secrecy
Kaumudi Kashikar-Gurjar | Sunday, 5 February 2017 AT 10:13 PM IST
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Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley while presenting the annual budget, last week, declared that political parties would not be allowed to accept donation in cash above Rs 2,000. Many of those, who continuously fought for transparency and accountability in political funding, welcomed this move.

However, if we carefully read through what the Government intends to do, we will be surprised. Particularly with the explanation dished out by Revenue Secretary Hasmukh Adhia on the next day, we are bound to say that this change meant for transparency and accountability is actually a leap back to the age of secrecy.

Before we discuss the purpose of the proposed amendments in RBI, IT and Representation of People’s act, which will facilitate the introduction of electoral bonds, we need to discuss the change in law proposed by Vajpayee government in year 2003, allowing political parties to declare contributions above Rs 20,000. Despite demands from all quarters for several years, including Election Commission of India and Law Commission of India, this change remains in effect.

Now after this step, the recent change, which indicates that all donations above Rs 2,000 will be accepted either through cheques or through digital mode of payment, left us thinking that the name of contributors donating more than Rs 2,000 will be disclosed. But no, there is a rule in place, which says that only the names of people or companies donating more than Rs 20,000 will be declared. So even in case of digital or bank cheque payment, the name of donors donating Rs 2,001 to Rs 19,999 will continue to remain anonymous.

Venkatesh Nayak, programme coordinator with the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) of Access to Information Programme, said that with this change in place, “Many political parties are likely to strive to receive cash donations below Rs 2,000 only. Thanks to Section 29C of the RP Act, which applies to donations of Rs 20,000 or above only, these will not be required to be reported to the IT Department or to the Election Commission of India.”

Unmasking the truth behind introduction of electoral bonds, Nayak said, “As donations received through electoral bonds are exempt from being included in the annual reports of political parties to the IT Department or the Election Commission of India, these amounts will also not be reported.”

Nayak added that only those contributions above Rs 20,000 received through cheques or digital mode of payment will be required to be reported to the IT Department and the Election Commission of India.

He emphasised that the combined effect of the amendments is that political parties will be under no obligation to disclose any donation or contribution that they receive at all, unless it is made electronically or through cheques.

Considering this, those who thought that the recent changes will finally launch us an inch forward to finally know who donates money to political parties are likely to be disappointed. With these smart tricks being played, transparency and accountability in the way political parties collect funds will now remain a distant dream.
 
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