Corporate donations via electoral trusts to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) zoomed in 2016-17 with the ruling party at the Centre getting the lion’s share of Rs 290.22 crore out of the total corporate donations of Rs 325.27 crore made to ten political parties, says a new report by the Association of Democratic Reforms (ADR).

The donations to the BJP were made primarily by two of the 21 electoral trusts registered with the Central Board of Direct Taxes – Satya/Prudent Electoral Trust, which received the biggest chunk of contributions from corporates like the DLF group, UPL Ltd, JSW Energy and Piramal Enterprises, Bharti Airtel, Essar and Grasim Cements among others, and the Janata Nirvachak Trust, said an analysis by ADR, a non-profit working in the field of electoral reforms.

Prudent Electoral Trust received the highest contributions of Rs 283.73 crore in 2016-17 and distributed Rs 283.72 crore to nine political parties apart from the BJP– Rs 16.5 crore to Congress, Rs 9 crore to the Shiromani Akali Dal, Rs 6.5 crore to Samajwadi Party, Rs 1 crore each to Aam Aadmi Party and Shiv Sena, and the rest to the Trinamool Congress, the Rashtriya Lok Dal, the People’s Democratic Party and National Conference.

Overall, there has been a marked rise in corporate donations since the BJP assumed power at the Centre in 2014.

“Total donations to political parties during 2013-14 was Rs 85.37 crore, during 2014-15: Rs 177.40 crore, during 2015-16: Rs 49.50 cr and during 2016-17: Rs 325.27 cr,” ADR said in a report.

In 2016-17, only two individuals – Suresh Kotak, promoter of Kotak Mahindra Finance, and Analjit Singh, founder, Max Group– have contributed to electoral trusts in FY 2016. “Mr. Suresh A Kotak is the fifth largest donor amongst all, donating Rs 18.5 crore to Janta Nirvachak Electoral Trust while Mr Analjit Singh donated Rs 1 crore to Prudent Electoral Trust,” ADR said.

Interestingly, Satya Electoral Trust changed its name to Prudent Electoral Trust in 2016-17. It also changed its address, from Bharti Crescent, 1-Nelson Mandela Road, Vasant Kunj, Phase-II, New Delhi – 110070 to G-15 Hans Bhawan, 1 Bahadurshah Zafar Marg, New Delhi – 110002. “However, there is no official letter uploaded on ECI’s website, regarding the change of name,” the report says.

As of now, corporate funds flow through electoral trusts, which, as per the rules formulated by the central government, are required to donate 95% of their total income to registered political parties in a financial year.

According to ADR,  as it is 69% of income of political parties comes from “unknown sources”.

To top that, as per a letter dated October 11, 2017, sent by the Central Board of Direct Taxes to ECI on the updated list of electoral trusts, there are a total of 21 electoral trusts registered with the CBDT, only 14 of whom had submitted their contributions report.

Calling for greater transparency, ADR said names of some electoral trusts, currently, do not indicate the name of the company/ group of companies which set up the Trusts’, adding that  to have greater transparency regarding details of corporates which fund political parties, it would be ideal to include the name of the parent company in the name of the trust.

The ADR report comes at time when the Narendra Modi government is pushing for electoral bonds, which critics say will further reduce transparency in corporate poll funding.

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