Warned govt about poll transparency: EC

The commission in an affidavit said it had written two letters expressing its concern

By Our Legal Correspondent in New Delhi
  • Published 28.03.19, 3:27 AM
  • Updated 28.03.19, 3:27 AM
  • 2 mins read
  •  
Officials demonstrate the functioning of an electronic voting machine at a training programme for school teachers in Thane on Wednesday Picture by PTI

The Election Commission on Wednesday informed the Supreme Court it had warned the government back in 2017 that amendments introduced to the finance act and the law governing elections to float poll bonds for anonymous funding would have “serious repercussions/impact” on electoral transparency.

The commission in an affidavit said it had written two letters — one dated March 15 that year and the other May 26 — expressing its concern at the amendments to the Finance Act of 2017 and Section 29C of the Representation of People Act, 1951.

The poll panel also said that it had recommended that even the existing practice of not naming donors who contribute less than Rs 20,000 should be amended in the “interests of democracy”.

“Anonymous contributions above or equal to the amount of Rs 2,000 should be prohibited,” the poll panel said.

Wednesday’s affidavit followed the court’s directive that the panel respond to two petitions, one filed by the NGO Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) and the other by the CPM.

While both have challenged the NDA government’s decision to issue bonds for funding elections in the country, the NGO had alleged on Tuesday that bonds worth over Rs 2,000 crore had been sold in the run-up to the April-May parliamentary elections and the major beneficiary appeared to be the ruling party.

The NGO also alleged that the bonds were donated “definitely in the form of kickbacks before the elections”.

The commission in its affidavit detailed its 2017 warnings to the government on electoral transparency.

“In this regard, it is pertinent to point out herein that the answering respondent (EC) vide its letter… dated 15.03.2017 had informed the ministry of law and justice that it had reviewed the various provisions relating to funding of political parties and candidates.

“The answering respondent further proposed that certain amendments may be made in the Income Tax Act, 1961, and relevant provisions of the Representation of People Act, 1951.

“Thereafter, the answering respondent vide its letter dated 26.05.2017 had informed the ministry of law and justice that certain provisions of the Finance Act, 2017, and the corresponding amendments carried out in the Income Tax Act, the Representation of People Act, 1951, and the Companies Act, 2013, will have serious repercussions/impact on the transparency aspect of political finance/funding of political parties,” the affidavit said.

The poll panel added: “The answering respondent submits that it had informed the ministry of law and justice… letter dated 26-05.2017, that by insertion of provision to section 29C of the Representation of People Act, 1951, vide section 127 of the Finance Act, 2017, it is evident that any donation received by a political party through an electoral bond has been taken out of the ambit of reporting the contributions as prescribed under Section 29C of the Representation of People Act, 1951.

“The answering respondent further informed the ministry of law and justice… that in a situation where contributions received through electoral bonds are not reported… it cannot be ascertained whether the political party has taken any donation in violation of the provision under Section 29-B of the RP Act, 1951, which prohibits the political parties from taking donations from government companies and foreign sources.”

The EC pointed out that contributions below Rs 20,000 are not incorporated now under Form 24A of the election law but the provision “should be amended” to mention such contributions.