Change in donation details of electoral bonds ‘retrograde’: EC to House panel

ASKED by a Parliamentary panel whether the Centre’s decision to issue electoral bonds is not a “regressive (step) and a sign of crony capitalism”, the Election Commission (EC) on Friday said in a written reply that while the move per se is welcome, an amendment brought by the government is a “retrograde step”.

This, the EC told the Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice, headed by Anand Sharma (Congress), would “compromise transparency” in political funding.

“These bonds can only be bought through cheque/e-transfer and therefore clean tax paid money could be used for political funding through electoral bonds,” EC replied. “However, the amendment in section 29 C of Representation of the People Act, 1951, making it no longer necessary to report details of donations received through electoral bonds, is a retrograde step, as transparency of political funding would be compromised…”

The House panel’s question — one among nearly 25 queries to the EC and the Union Law Ministry — comes amid a growing view among opposition leaders that electoral bonds give a huge benefit to the party in power, as the government will know who bought these electoral bonds and who encashed them.

On the issue of state funding of elections, the ministry’s representatives said the Law Commission had already given its view that state funding of elections is not possible keeping in mind the country’s financial condition.

During the meeting, to discuss a wide range of issues related to electoral reforms.a technical team from EC conducted a detailed presentation of electronic voting machines (EVM) with voter verified paper audit trail (VVPAT) for the committee. EC representatives assured the panel members that EVMs are tamper-proof and cannot be hacked.

Referring to the Centre’s decision to grant funds for buying VVPAT machines, they said their introduction will boost voters’ confidence. Sources said committee members sought EC’s views on the process of plurality voting — or the first-past-the-post system — and other options such as proportional representation. One member is learnt to have pointed out that in a multi-cornered contest — as has been seen in most elections of late — a party winning the election as per the existing system may not truly represent the majority view.

Senior EC officials spoke at length on the viability of holding elections through proportional representation. They said partial proportional representation is already in practice in polls for President, Vice President, Rajya Sabha and Legislative Councils but it was not considered for general elections keeping in mind the mammoth size of the electorate and other complexities.

The committee also asked why a government that is doing much to ensure voting rights of NRIs is not doing enough to ensure that nearly 10 million migrant workers in the country also vote, sources said.

One member is learnt to have been critical of the new rule making it mandatory for election contestants to disclose not only their own sources of income but also those of their spouses and dependents at the time of filing nomination papers.  An MP from Kerala reportedly asked whether this rule is not infringement of an individual’s right of privacy.

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