Electoral bonds are giving a miss to cities

SBI yet to update the software

In response to an application under RTI, the government mentioned ‘updation/modification’ of the software as the reason for not extending the electoral bonds scheme to states like Telangana, Kerala & Andhra Pradesh.

However, a lack of demand for electoral bonds of smaller denomination in the first three cycles of sale that took place in March, April & May 2018 might have been the reason behind these being not made available in these states.

While it is widely accepted that electoral bonds increase anonymity and do not enhance transparency in any manner, there is another equally important issue of unbridled government control over the selection of cities where the bonds would be available for purchase.

The electoral bond scheme was notified in January 2018 and the first sale cycle of 10 days was in March 2018. The bonds were available for purchase only in the four metro cities of New Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai & Chennai in the March cycle. For the April, May, & July cycles, the number of cities was increased to eleven.

Since the electoral bonds have to be purchased/collected by physically visiting the designated SBI bank branch, it is highly impossible for someone in the states of Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Odisha, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Bihar, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Jammu & Kashmir and Goa to purchase the electoral bonds since no SBI branch is authorized to sell electoral bonds in these states. In other words, citizens and other entities in these 11 states are being kept out of this scheme.

It has to be noted that regional parties are ruling some of these states and they are at a great disadvantage.Electoral Bonds Sale Map_1Even in states where a SBI branch is authorized, it is very difficult for a common citizen to travel to the state capital to purchase a bond.

For all the eight North-Eastern states, only the SBI branch in Guwahati has been authorized to sell these bonds. Given the connectivity and difficult terrain of the North-East, it can be assumed that the bonds are not available for most people in these states.

When the scheme was notified in January this year, the guidelines mentioned that the bonds would be available for purchase for 10 days each in the months of January, April , July & October. But in 2018, the bonds were available for purchase for 10 days each in the months of March, April, May and July.

The months of March & May were not mentioned in the original notification. Though the central government can specify an additional period of 30 days, that can be done only in the year when the Lok Sabha elections are due i.e., 2019 and not in the current year (2018).

There are two basic questions that remain unanswered in this age of technology. Why would updation/modification of software take so many months and why is updation/modification of software city specific?

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