By Advait Moharir
In an attempt to bring transparency to political funding, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley announced during the Budget speech that the limit for maximum funding any political party can receive, in cash, from an individual has been brought down from Rs. 20,000 to Rs. 2,000. Parties, however, can receive additional funding via cheque and digital transfer.
[su_pullquote align=”right”]The Election Commission has reported that, in the last ten years, about 70% of a whopping INR 11,367 crore funding came from undisclosed sources.[/su_pullquote]
Political parties have always been unwilling to cooperate as far as transparency is concerned. It took a long legal battle to make the declaration of criminal cases and financial records compulsory before elections. The Election Commission has reported that, in the last ten years, about 70% of a whopping INR 11,367 crore funding came from undisclosed sources. In such circumstances, this step is certainly forward-looking and genuinely intends to bring transparency in electoral and administrative politics. However, this step, though well-intended, is woefully incomplete.
While the amount of funding per anonymous individual will go down to below Rs. 2000, it will see a rise in the number of donations by such individuals in multiples of Rs. 2000. This is because the government hasn’t brought the cap to zero and has retained anonymity. Professor Chokhar of The Association For Democratic Reforms says, “It won’t lead to any transparency in donations. Rather than Rs 19,999 as is happening now, political parties will claim that they received majority of donations below Rs 2,000. They should have to disclose source of every paisa. Today, when every small trader is expected to keep record of source of every rupee earned by him, why do we have different rules for political parties?”In an attempt to bring transparency to political funding, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley announced the maximum funding during the Budget Speech that the limit for maximum funding . | Photo courtesy: Telgu News
Will there still be loopholes in the system?
Another serious aspect is the tendency of political parties to use minor legal loopholes to circumvent such policies. The change clearly says donations from “an individual” to a political party. Parties can use this to accept large cash donations from groups and organisations without due scrutiny. Also, in May 2016 there was an Amendment by the ruling government to allow funding by foreign firms.
[su_pullquote]May 2016 saw an Amendment by the ruling government to allow funding by foreign firms.[/su_pullquote]
This further clouds the notion of transparency by the government. Both the BJP and Congress have been accused of illegally receiving funds from UK-based Vedanta Group. Also, the same ruling party had to be reminded multiple times by the Election Commission, before it submitted its expenditure of INR 449 Crores for the 2014 Lok Sabha election.
The fact of the matter is that political parties have several vested interests and it is unlikely that they are going to be enthusiastic about this new law. The lukewarm reactions by the parties on the law clearly illustrates their stance.
To bring about accountability in political parties, better backup decisions and strong implementation are needed.
Former Chief Election Commissioner SY Qurayshi’s suggested an electoral fund that can receive any amount of funding, but is regulated by the Election Commission. Perhaps we need this or a similar structure of political funding. The government’s decision is well-intentioned, but it needs stronger intermediate measures and political goodwill to succeed.
Featured image: The New Indian express
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