An RTI response by the State Bank of India (SBI) to a query by well-known transparency activist, Commodore Lokesh Batra (retired), has revealed that a total of 6,64,250 electoral bonds worth Rs 18,531.5 crore were printed in 2018 and 2019 by the India Security Press (ISP) owned by the Security Printing and Minting Corporation of India.
An electoral bond is a promissory note used for political funding which can be bought by a company or an Indian citizen from select SBI branches. The electoral bonds exist in denominations of Rs 1,000, Rs 10,000, Rs 1 lakh, Rs 10 lakh and Rs 1 crore.
In 2018, the ISP had printed 6,04,250 bonds valued at Rs 7,131.50 crore. There were 2,65,000 bonds valued at denominations of Rs 1,000 and Rs 10,000 each which had been printed. While 53,000 bonds of Rs 1 lakh denomination, 16,600 bonds worth Rs 10 lakh each and 4,650 bonds worth Rs1 crore each had been issued by ISP.
Then in 2019, ISP printed only 60,000 bonds valued at Rs 11,400 crore. And not a single bond valued Rs 1,000 and Rs 10,000 was printed. The printing of bonds worth Rs 1 lakh and Rs 10 lakh were reduced to 40,000 and 10,000, respectively. However, bonds worth Rs 1crore increased to 10,000.
How many bonds have been sold so far?
Interestingly, out of the 6,64,250 bonds that were printed in the two years, only 12,452 have been sold so far to donors. The SBI has revealed in the RTI (Right to Information) response that 47 bonds of the denomination of Rs, 1,000, 70 of Rs 10,000, 1,722 bonds of Rs 1 lakh denomination, 4,911 of Rs 10 lakh and 5,702 of Rs 1 crore have been sold. Bonds worth Rs 6,120.3947 crore have been sold over 13 phases.
What needs to be noted is that the bonds printed have cost the public exchequer enormous amounts of money. ISP charges Rs.25 plus 6 + 6% GST (goods and services tax) per bond from the government. Till date, SBI has raised a bill of almost Rs 3.5 crore for these transactions.
BJP’s Requests to Issue Bonds Of Lower Denominations
The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had written a letter to the then Finance Minister,ArunJaitley, on August 24, 2017, congratulating him for the introduction of electoral bonds in the Finance Bill in February 2017. The party’s national general secretary Bhupendra Yadav also wrote in the letter that bonds should also be introduced in smaller denominations of Rs. 2,000,Rs. 5,000 and Rs.10,000 “in addition to higher denominations” to enable and encourage people of all strata to participate in the electoral funding process.
It had also been argued by the BJP in the letter that due to the fear of “facing reprisals from political parties,” many companies were not willing to contribute via cheques or demand drafts. The minister was further asked to print these bonds without incorporating “any serial numbers or identification marks that can be used later to identify the contributor.”
In January 2018, the government introduced bonds in denominations of Rs 1,000, Rs 10,000, Rs 1 lakh, Rs 10 lakh and Rs 1 crore.
While the BJP had requested bonds in smaller denominations to “enable and encourage” people, irrespective of their socio-economic status, to contribute to the funds of political parties and the Central government went ahead and issued such bonds, these remain the least sold. Less than 100 of the 2,65,000 bonds of lower denominations have been sold to donors.
The question that begs to be asked is: Should the government have gone ahead and printed so many bonds using taxpayer money before being sure that there would be enough donors interested in buying them?
Ravi Nair is an independent journalist.