This week, Indian democracy was sentenced to death by guillotine amidst uproar in the Lok Sabha with Congress protesting the PNB Fraud, TDP demanding special status and a few others protesting defacement of statues across the country. Guillotine in parliamentary terms means, to put to vote and pass all demands for grants without discussions on the last day of prescribed period set for discourse on such demands. Amidst the chaos that resulted from protests carried out by the opposition in the ongoing Budget Session, the Lok Sabha quietly passed the Budget 2018, with 218 amendments without any discussion or debate. The bill that determines how and where the public money is utilised was passed in less than 40 minutes !!!
While the Indian media as usual chose to ignore this important issue with most of them focusing on BJPs defeat in two bypolls in Uttar Pradesh, only a handful raised the issue during prime time debates.
Of the 218 amendments passed on the last day that included amendments to raise the salaries and amoluments of MPs, change in capitals gain tax etc., the most controversial of them all was the amendment to the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act 2010. The said amendment allows the political parties to escape scrutiny for any funding received from foreign entities during the past 42 years. It essentially means that political parties are now protected from any kind of scrutiny with respect to the foreign funds they may have received from 1976.
Foreign funding of political parties is prohibited under the Representation of People’s Act. Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, passed in 2010 allowed funding as per the provisions contained therein with bar to scrutiny of any funds received after the commencement of the Act. An amendment in 2016 made it easier for political parties to receive foreign funds. The recent amendment allows exemption from scrutiny for any funds received post August 5, 1976.
The amendment giving retrospective effect to exemption has raised various questions which remain unanswered. But why are politicians so secretive and protective about their income, and why do they keep finding ways to evade the law?
The answer to this lies in the observation of Delhi High Court. In 2014, both Congress and BJP were indicted by the Delhi High Court of accepting foreign funds following a petition by the Association of Democratic Reforms. A NDTV report cites that between 2004 and 2012, Vedanta Resources Plc, then a London-based group, had allegedly donated Rs 879 lakh to Congress and Rs 790 lakh to the BJP through its Indian subsidiaries. The latest amendment effectively frees both parties from this verdict.
The recent amendment is a blot to democracy and a boon to all parties receiving illegal foreign fundings. The irony here is that this government has moved to protect political parties from any scrutiny whatsoever over political funding at a time when there is greater scrutiny on foreign funds received by NGOs and other organisations.
One of its biggest promises that Narendra Modi government made when it came to power was to make political funding transparent.
Where is the transparency that BJP promised ?