The Reporters’ Collective On Electoral Bonds

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Big Companies Donated Crores Through Unknown Firms, Individuals: The Reporters' Collective On Electoral Bonds

The electoral bonds account for a lion’s share of political donations in the country

New Delhi:

The Reporters’ Collective, a news website run by independent journalists, in its analyses of the electoral bonds data released by the Election Commission found companies and individuals donated crores of rupees to political parties under circumstances that would merit a detailed look.

According to The Reporters’ Collective, some of the companies and people who have donated in crores include a Kotak group company that donated using the same scheme that billionaire banker Uday Kotak had questioned; a company linked to YSR Congress Party MP Alla Ayodhya Rami Reddy that donated over Rs 100 crore; a Reliance Industries accounts man, Laxmidas Vallabhdas Merchant, who is among the top 100 donors, and a Reliance Industries company called Qwik Supply Chain Pvt Ltd, which was the third-largest donor.

The electoral bonds account for a lion’s share of political donations in the country. The Supreme Court ruled them illegal last month, saying the scheme violated the right of voters to know who was financing their representatives.

Around 11 per cent of the bonds issued between April 2019 and January 2024 was bought by a firm led by Santiago Martin, who is also known as the “Lottery King”. The data shows that his Future Gaming and Hotel Services was the single-biggest buyer of electoral bonds for the period.

The electoral bonds data, however, does not map electoral bond buyers to recipients, leaving it unclear which individual and corporate donors were funding which parties.

The Collective in a report said just before the general elections in April 2019, Mr Kotak asked the then Finance Minister Arun Jaitley about the opaque electoral bonds scheme. Seven months later, a privately-held company of the Kotak group, Infina Finance Pvt Ltd, bought electoral bonds worth Rs 60 crore, the Collective reported.

Mr Reddy, the YSR Congress Party MP, founded real estate and infrastructure development firm Ramky Group, whose official address Ramky Towers is also the office of construction firm Chennai Green Woods Pvt Ltd, the Collective reported. This construction firm donated Rs 105 crore. In July 2021, the income tax department reportedly raided the Ramky group over alleged tax evasion, and from the same financial year the company began donating to political parties through electoral bonds, the Collective reported.

Qwik Supply Chain Pvt Ltd, a little-known company with a registered address at Navi Mumbai’s Dhirubhai Ambani Knowledge City (DAKC) and having links to Reliance Industries Ltd, was the third-largest donor to political parties using electoral bonds, news agency PTI reported. It bought Rs 410 crore of electoral bonds between financial years 2021-22 and 2023-24. A Reliance Industries spokesperson, however, said Qwik Supply Chain is not a subsidiary of any Reliance Industries’ entity, PTI reported.

A Reliance Industries employee, Laxmidas Vallabhdas Merchant, whose LinkedIn profile says he’s a Group Controller looking after tax compliance, is among the top 100 donors, the Collective reported. He donated Rs 25 crore through electoral bonds in November 2023. The now-scrapped electoral bonds scheme allowed individuals to donate to political parties without revealing their identities.

This allowed big companies to use unknown individuals and zero-revenue companies to donate on their behalf while keeping away from the glare of public scrutiny, the Collective reported.

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