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Zero transparency in budgetary recommendations

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Zero transparency in budgetary recommendations
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The recommendations presented in the Union Budget 2017-18 with the goal of ‘cleansing’ political funding and making the political scenario in the country ‘transparent’, has drawn national attention.

Few hail Finance Minister Arun Jaitley’s proposals as the donations received by the political parties would be corruption-free, bringing in transparency and responsibility in the functioning. However, these moves if carefully analysed, leave loopholes that fail Jaitley and his government. One of the most significant moves by the Minister to cleanse the funding for political parties was to limit the cash donations received by the parties from individual donors from Rs 20, 000 to Rs 2, 000. He also introduced a new concept of electoral bonds. Individual donors and companies would be able to purchase electoral bonds from authorized banks against cheque and digital payments and the parties can redeem the bonds only in their designated accounts within the prescribed time limit from the issuance of the bond. All the parties should regularly file the income tax returns. Those failing to do so would lose their exemption status.

The limit of individual donations was drastically cut short to Rs 2, 000 from Rs 20, 000 according to the directions of the Election Commission. Even while the suggestion was put forward by the Commission, the difficulty in achieving the goal was pointed out. For donations less than Rs 2, 000, the parties aren’t required to disclose the identity of the donors. Most of the parties have been receiving anonymous cash donations in huge amounts and accounting them in bits of Rs 20, 000 until now. Any random name could be included in the donor’s list and sometimes, the names are provided even without the consent of the person specified in the list. The suggestion hardly changes anything except the ‘clerical’ job of the concerned persons. That is, the Rs 20, 000 cash donation specified in the name of a particular donor, would now onwards be written in the name of ten other persons. It should be noted that such donations form just a trivial part of the illegal wealth belonging to the political parties. The concept of electoral bond itself is against transparency. The donor individuals and companies could purchase these bonds from banks using cheques and as digital payments and donate to the political parties. They redeem the bonds through their accounts. The reason given for mooting electoral bonds is the reluctance of the corporate companies and others in disclosing the details of donations they give to the parties. That is, the scheme has been introduced to contribute donations to parties in secret. How will this ensure transparency? Since the transactions occur through banks, there is little chance of irregularities or corruption. But isn’t the services expected by the corporate companies in return for their generous contributions, a bigger corruption? The details of the donors are mandatory for subjecting it to social auditing.

The reality is that most of the political parties including the ruling party, carry on with their drama evading democratic discussions and transparency. The new budget recommendations will not cleanse the political funding. The vigilance of the parties to stay away from the ambit of the Right to Information Act (RTI) is the biggest evidence. The Central Information Commission (CIC) had in 2013 clearly maintained that political parties were public authorities to be covered under the RTI act. But the Central government had backed the parties then making them immune to the Act and neglecting transparency. An amendment to the RBI Act, Income Tax Act and Representation of People Act is proposed for subjecting the budget recommendations to law. The government has also announced its willingness. Why is there a hesitancy to bring the political parties within the bounds of RTI Act? This alone was sufficient to curb corruption and achieve transparency. There are dirty political tactics hidden in the amendment of the laws as well. All the amendments have been presented as Finance Bill which means that the Rajya Sabha wouldn’t be required to permit or discuss the moves. The Prevention of Corruption Act was passed last year in the similar manner allowing international corporates to contribute donations to the political parties. Does denying the right to information and dismissing Rajya Sabha discourses amount to transparency?

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