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Bankers, Economists Question the ‘Alarming’ Amount of Electoral Bonds Sold From SBI, Demand Probe

A recent RTI query revealed that over Rs 822 crore worth of electoral bonds were sold in the month of May alone, during the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

Sujit Nath | News18.com

Updated:June 8, 2019, 3:08 PM IST
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Bankers, Economists Question the ‘Alarming’ Amount of Electoral Bonds Sold From SBI, Demand Probe
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Kolkata: Bank union leaders and financial experts on Saturday raised questions over the unusually high amount of political donations through electoral bonds from a single SBI branch in Kolkata in May, calling the trend alarming and demanding a probe.

A recent RTI query revealed that over Rs 822 crore worth of electoral bonds were sold in the month of May alone, during the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

News18 has learnt that bonds issued by the main branch of SBI in Kolkata were all redeemed in the state itself. Amita Chatterjee, chief manager, SBI, Kolkata main branch, said, “This branch has done a lot of business as compared to pan India. Amount wise we were on top. I don’t think there is anything unusual in this because people from Kolkata with their KYC purchased the bond.”

Asked about the allegations of fuzzy funding as the electoral bond system involves anonymous donations making it difficult to trace end users, Chatterjee said, “Here, everything is based on the KYC. We have all the data and we pass this information to our Mumbai office. If anyone wants more details about it, they can contact our Mumbai branch.”

Well-known economist and former finance minister Asim Dasgupta called the trend unusual and demanded an explanation from the authorities.

“This trend is quite unusual and needs a lot of explanation. There should be a probe in this matter because it’s quite unusual. Along with the other relevant constitutional bodies (probe agencies), Election Commission (EC) also has a crucial role to play in this case,” said Dasgupta, who headed the GST committee during former prime ministers Manmohan Singh and Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s tenure.

Despite the Centre’s scheme, which was introduced during the 2017-18 union budget to cleanse political funding, is being criticised by many leaders and financial experts because it involves anonymous donations.

The Bharatiya Janata Party has reportedly gained the most from this scheme. In 2016-17, the party received Rs 997 crore and in 2017-18, it received Rs 990 crore in donations.

Ashok Mukherjee, deputy chief secretary, SBI Staff Association, said that most of the traders from Kolkata purchased these bonds to support their respective political parties. “I must say that the trend is not only unusual but also alarming. I think the concern investigating agencies should probe the matter.”

Mukherjee said the bank is concerned about the allegations of black money that may have been pumped into the system at a time when the country was witnessing its 17th Lok Sabha polls.

“One can purchase these bonds for any value in multiples of Rs 1,000, Rs 10,000, Rs 10 lakh, and Rs 1 crore from specified branches of the SBI. This is valid for 15 days. The purchaser is allowed to buy these bonds only after fulfilling the KYC norms. But these bonds don’t carry the name of the donors and end users, so the anonymity of the donor and end users remain secret unless someone probe into it. I think agency should probe the background of the persons/traders who bought these bonds in Kolkata. Our only concern is whether black money was pumped through this system or not.”

Another financial expert, Gautam Bose, said, “Most of the bonds were sold in the denomination of Rs 1 crore. Who bought these bonds? What is the guarantee that black money was not used while purchasing these bonds? The value was highest in Kolkata and this cannot be just a coincidence. This clearly shows that someone had a special interest in Bengal during the Lok Sabha polls. This must be investigated.”

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