The Times of India
Pradeep Thakur
New Delhi

NEW DELHI: Political parties are sourcing a major chunk of their funds from unidentified donors, according to their income-tax returns. Donors' lists and tax returns filed by the Congress, BJP, NCP and BSP for the past five years show they have not identified those who account for most of their funding.

For instance, the Congress collected at least Rs 978 crore through sale of coupons in the five years till 2008-09, for which it has not provided any contributors' list to authorities. In comparison, contributions collected by the ruling party with donors' names account for a mere Rs 85 crore in the same period.

The BJP, which has not proved as successful in gathering funds while in opposition, has made Rs 30 crore through sale of its Ajivan Sahyog Nidhi coupons in the five years between 2005 and 2009. In comparison, it has recieved Rs 95 crore from identified donors.

The BSP, despite its smaller size, has been more successful and innovative in its collection of funds. The party received more than Rs 200 crore through cash donations in just two years (2007-08 and 2008-09). It has not made any disclosure about who its contributors are, claiming that all donations received by it are below Rs 20,000. When I-T authorities tried to unearth the identities of its donors, the BSP successfully argued that all its contributions in cash are made by poor supporters, out of love and affection for the party leader.

The Representation of People Act states that political parties are required to submit details of contributions received in excess of Rs 20,000 from any person or a company.

Those familiar with the issue feel that it is no coincidence that most of the donations don't exceed Rs 20,000 and thus contributors remain unidentified.

While the I-T department finds nothing amiss about it, the pattern of parties getting funds from people who wish to stay anonymous has engaged the attention of anti-graft campaigners.

Flush from their success in pressuring the government on the Lokpal bill, they have now decided to campaign for full transparency in political funding.

Income-Tax authorities have looked at accounts of four major political parties -- Congress, BJP, BSP and the CPM -- for two assessment years between 2006 and 2008.

Though they found everything in order and also certified the accounts of these parties, activists led by Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) has demanded a thorough probe into parties receiving undisclosed contributions which constitute up to 90% of their total funds collected in any particular year.

The ADR has written to the Central Board of Direct Taxes demanding a probe into the large cash donations received by political parties. "There is a dire need for a thorough investigation and scrutiny of the source and flow of such donations to curb the flow of black money into the coffers of political parties," said Anil Bairwal, coordinator of ADR.

He alleged that parties are misusing the RP Act by taking multiple donations from the same persons but keeping each contribution within the limit of Rs 20,000 so that they don't have to disclose donors' names. "Make it mandatory (for every party) to issue receipts with full details of name, address and amount contributed," Bairwal said.

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