Prior to Supreme Court ruling, Government printed Rs 8,350 crore worth of electoral bonds

Since the inception of the Electoral Bonds (EB) scheme in 2018, the Government has been engaged in printing bonds for political funding. From December 29, 2023, until February 15, 2024, a total of 8,350 bonds worth Rs one crore each were printed, with the overall value reaching Rs 35,660 crore over the entire period of the scheme. These figures were revealed in response to an RTI application filed by Commodore Lokesh K Batra (Retd), provided by the Department of Economic Affairs, Ministry of Finance.

The RTI reply detailed that the Government incurred a cost of Rs 13.94 crore for commission and printing of the EBs. Additionally, the State Bank of India (SBI), the authorized financial institution under the scheme, charged Rs 12.04 crore, inclusive of GST, as commission for sales conducted in 30 phases since the launch of the scheme. Notably, donors and political parties were exempted from any commission or GST charges.

However, the fate of the EB scheme changed dramatically on February 15, 2024, when a five-judge Constitution bench, led by Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud, delivered a historic verdict, striking down the scheme. The court ruled that the changes made in the laws to implement the EB scheme were unconstitutional, citing violations of the constitutional rights to freedom of speech and expression, as well as the right to information. Despite the Government's assertion that the scheme aimed to enhance transparency and combat black money in political funding, the court disagreed.

The verdict came just weeks before the Lok Sabha polls were set to be notified, shaking the political landscape. The court's decision highlighted the contentious nature of the EB scheme and its implications for democratic processes and accountability in political funding.

Notably, between March 2018 and January 2024, the total amount of funds generated through the sale of EBs reached Rs 16,518 crore. A significant portion of these funds, more than half, flowed to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), amounting to Rs 6,565 crore. In contrast, the Congress party received a distant second at Rs 1,123 crore, as per declarations made to the Election Commission (EC).

In addition to striking down the EB scheme, the Supreme Court directed the SBI to submit details of EBs purchased since April 12, 2019, until the present date to the Election Commission by March 6. The EC will then publish this information on its official website by March 13. However, the manner in which the data will be presented remains uncertain, particularly regarding the identification of bond buyers and the respective political parties receiving the bonds.

Currently, it is presumed that corporates and high-net-worth individuals were the primary donors, as evidenced by EC records indicating that around 94% of EBs purchased in most phases were of Rs one crore face value each. This underscores the need for transparency and accountability in political funding, as highlighted by the Supreme Court's landmark ruling.