There is a lot to be concerned about with the passage of the 2017 Finance Bill by the Lok Sabha, with its shockingly long list of amendments, starting with the creeping Aadhaar-isation of all manner of citizen services. But there’s one particular area in which the gap between the transparency talk and walk of this government is egregiously vast–political funding.
The amendments to the Bill came in waves over days, catching even MPs off guard. It’s worth wading through them to see how systematically the government dismantled citizen protections that provide some oversight of the murky world of political finance.
The Finance Bill amendments do three things: one, they amend Section 182 of the Companies Act to remove all caps on the amount companies can donate to political parties (prior to the amendment, this stood at 7.5% of the average net profits of the company for the last three years, to prevent companies being set up as fronts to channel money into political parties–that protection is also now gone). Two, they free the company from mandatory disclosure of donations made by it to political parties in its profit and loss books–the company no longer needs to say whom it donated to.
Ideally, the Representation of the People Act whose Section 29C requires all political parties to declare the names of all donors above Rs 20,000 should still protect us as citizens. We should also still be able to rely on Section 13A of the Income Tax Act which requires political parties seeking tax exemptions to declare the names of all donors over Rs 20,000. In fact, following Finance Minister Arun Jaitley’s announcement in his budget speech that the limit on anonymous cash donations was being lowered to Rs 2,000, we should have been moving towards greater transparency.