Who will Investigate the Investigators? Electoral Bond Data Raises Serious Doubts Credibility of ED, CBI and IT

A total of 41 companies collectively donated the BJP Rs 2,471 through electoral bonds after facing raids by central investigating agencies — the ED, the CBI, and the I-T department.
Electoral Bond Data
Electoral Bond DataGraphic- The Mooknayak

New Delhi: The data on electoral bonds, which was made public after the Supreme Court rapped the State bank of India (SBI), has left the entire country in awe.

During a press conference that was held at Press club on India on March 22, advocates, social rights activists along with senior media persons held a jarring discussion on the political hot potato.

The panel consisting of Senior SC lawyer Prashant Bhushan, Advocate Anjali Bharadwaj, Professor Jagdeep Chhokar of the Association of Democratic Reforms and Nitin Sethi from the Reporter’s Collective highlighted the role of Central agencies in the whole process of garnering donations. This begs the question, “Who will investigate the investigators?”

Bhushan said, “The data has proved that electoral bonds have been taken as a means of corruption. This can be done by scaring the businesses with central probing agencies such as the Enforcement Directorate (ED) or the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).”

He suggested that there should be an investigation to know who are the members from the central agencies who are involved in “hafta vasuli” (extortion) for the BJP. The senior advocate also added this leads to a conundrum because the agencies who were supposed to be neutrally investigating cases have been used as a pawn in the political game.

“It is also the duty of common citizens to investigate the matter themselves and call for a probe,” he said.

Anjali Bharadwaj, who is the co-convenor of the National Campaign for People’s Right to Information (RTI), doubted the actions of the probing agencies.

Referring to Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s arrest late on March 21 evening by the ED, she said, “When Kejriwal’s remand was being argued in a court, the name of the approver in the case, Sarath Chandra Reddy, was mentioned by the prosecution. If we look into the data of electoral bonds, we will realize that Reddy has a company named Aurobindo Pharma Limited, which donated the BJP a hefty sum though the bonds before he was granted bail and after he was pardoned by prosecution.”

Reddy, director of the pharma company, was arrested in connection with a money laundering case associated with the now-defunct Delhi excise policy, which is the same case under which Kejriwal has been arrested.

On November 15, 2022, Aurobindo Pharma acquired electoral bonds worth Rs 5 crore, which were subsequently encashed by the BJP on November 21, according to bond data.

The following year, in June, a Delhi court granted Reddy, who currently holds a non-executive director position in the company, permission to become an approver in the case. Furthermore, the court provided him with leniency in this high-profile case.

“The money went to BJP’s account, after which he applied for bail in May 2023. The bail plea was not opposed by the ED. Ask yourselves, how many cases do you see where the ED does not oppose a bail plea?” asked the activist.

Previously, the ED had alleged that Reddy was involved in the liquor trade, conspired with business owners and politicians involved in the excise case and engaged in unfair market practices to gain an undue advantage from the government policy.

Bharadwaj alleged that the businessman was given bail on medical grounds. Roughly a month later, he turned approver in the case due to which he was given a pardon. He further purchased electoral bonds worth Rs 25 crores for the ruling BJP.

Adding on to the discussion, Advocate Bhushan asserted, “The ED, who is investigating Kejriwal and others, has no moral right to do so. I hope the electoral bond fallout will also make the whole country investigate the government’s influence on them and how they are being used to stifle the opposition.”

He called for an investigation, alleging that 41 companies under scrutiny by investigative agencies such as the CBI, the ED and the Income Tax (I-T) Department have donated a total of Rs 2,471 crore to the BJP through electoral bonds.

He claimed that Rs 1,698 crore was donated after raids by these agencies, with Rs 121 crore donated in the three months following the raids.

Bhushan also claimed that 33 groups of companies purchasing these bonds received major contracts and project approvals from the government, totaling Rs 3.7 lakh crore, in exchange for Rs 1,751 crore in donations to the BJP.

According to him, there were 49 instances where the BJP allegedly received Rs 580 crore in bonds as “kickbacks” for postpaid contracts or project approvals within three months.

He further alleged that more than half of the funds received through redeeming electoral bonds were used as bribes for awarding of contracts or under the threat of investigative agencies.

Bhushan demanded the establishment of an independent Special Investigation Team (SIT) to investigate what he termed as a “tripartite conspiracy”.

Firms That Made Donations Following Central Agencies’ Raids

The SBI data reveals that 14 out of the leading 30 companies acquiring electoral bonds between April 12, 2019 and January 24, 2024 have faced scrutiny from central or state investigating bodies.

Among these firms, Future Gaming and Hotel Services stands out, having contributed Rs 1,368 crore between October 27, 2020 and October 5, 2023. The ED took action against the company and its sub-distributors in 2022, attaching assets worth over Rs 409 crore in a money laundering case.

Megha Engineering and Infrastructure Limited, despite being raided by the I-T department in October 2019 still managed to donate Rs 966 crore in electoral bonds.

Haldia Energy Limited, which donated Rs 377 crore in electoral bonds, faced investigation by the CBI in March 2020.

Vedanta Limited, through its subsidiary Talwandi Sabo Power Ltd (TSPL), was subjected to an ED raid in August 2022 in connection with a money laundering probe. Nevertheless, the group collectively contributed Rs 400 crore in electoral bonds.

Yashoda Super Speciality Hospital, raided by I-T officials in December 2020, donated Rs 162 crore through electoral bonds in October 2021.

DLF Commercial Developers Limited, which donated Rs 130 crore through electoral bonds, had faced a CBI inquiry in January 2019 and by the ED in November 2023.

Jindal Steel and Power Limited bought bonds worth Rs 123 crore after facing ED searches in April 2022 over allegations of violations of foreign exchange regulations.

Chennai Greenwoods Private Limited, subjected to I-T raids in July 2021, donated Rs 105 crore through electoral bonds in January 2022.

Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories Limited, which was raided by IT officials in November 2023 over tax evasion allegations, donated Rs 80 crore through electoral bonds.

Following raids by the Directorate General of Goods and Services Tax Intelligences (DGGST) in June 2020, the IFB Agro Limited made a donation of Rs 92 crore through electoral bonds.

NCC Limited, after I-T raids in November 2022 over tax evasion allegations, donated Rs 60 crore through the bonds.

Divi’s Laboratory Limited donated Rs 55 crore after facing an I-T action in February 2019.

United Phosphorus India Limited, which was raided by the I-T department in January 2020, purchased a bond of Rs 50 crore.

Aurobindo Pharma, whose director was arrested by the ED in November 2022 in connection with a money laundering probe, had previously donated Rs 1.6 crore through the electoral bonds.

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