In response to an application under RTI, the government mentioned ‘updation/modification’ of the software as the reason for not extending the electoral bonds scheme to states like Telangana, Kerala & Andhra Pradesh.
Factly had earlier written about the lack of demand for electoral bonds of smaller denomination in the first three cycles of sale that took place in March, April & May 2018. While it is widely accepted that electoral bonds increase anonymity and do not enhance transparency in any manner, there is another equally important issue of unbridled government control over the selection of cities where the bonds would be available for purchase.
Electoral Bonds available for purchase only in 11 cities
The electoral bond scheme was notified in January 2018 and the first sale cycle of 10 days was in March 2018. The bonds were available for purchase only in the four metro cities of New Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai & Chennai in the March cycle. For the April, May, & July cycles, the number of cities was increased to eleven (11).
Since the electoral bonds have to be purchased/collected by physically visiting the designated SBI bank branch, it is highly impossible for someone in the states of Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Odisha, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Bihar, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Jammu & Kashmir and Goa to purchase the electoral bonds since no SBI branch is authorized to sell electoral bonds in these states. In other words, citizens & other entities in these 11 states are being kept out of this scheme. It has to be noted that regional parties are ruling some of these states and they are at a great disadvantage.Even in states where a SBI branch is authorized, it is very difficult for a common citizen to travel to the state capital to purchase a bond. For all the eight (8) North-Eastern states, only the SBI branch in Guwahati has been authorized to sell these bonds. Given the connectivity and difficult terrain of the North-East, it can be assumed that the bonds are not available for most people in these states.
Violation of the scheme guidelines
When the scheme was notified in January this year, the guidelines mentioned that the bonds would be available for purchase for 10 days each in the months of January, April , July & October. But in 2018, the bonds were available for purchase for 10 days each in the months of March, April, May and July. The months of March & May were not mentioned in the original notification. Though the central government can specify an additional period of 30 days, that can be done only in the year when the Lok Sabha elections are due i.e., 2019 and not in the current year (2018).
‘Software updation’ – the reason for not extending this to other cities
In response to an RTI application that sought the reasons for not extending the electoral bonds to SBI branches in the rest of the states, the Department of Economic Affairs, Government of India mentioned ‘Software Updation/Modification’ as the reason for not extending the scheme to all the cities. There are two basic questions that remain unanswered in this age of technology. Why would updation/modification of software take so many months and why is updation/modification of software city specific?
Such flimsy reasons give credence to the belief that government is intentionally keeping certain states/cities out of the scheme.