A VOTE FOR STATE FUNDING :-
- Indian elections are the world’s biggest exercise in democracy but also among the most expensive.
- Parties and candidates need large sums of money for voter mobilisation, advertising, consulting, transport, propaganda and printing of campaign materials to reach voters in constituencies.
- Corporate donations constitute the main source of election funding in India which is awash with black money, with business and corporate donations to political parties commonly taking this form.
- The public disclosure system that exists is limited.
- Only in 2008, using the provisions of the Right to Information (RTI) Act, the Central Information Commission allowed disclosure of income tax returns of political parties, though it is an open secret that actual expenditure is much, much higher than what is disclosed.
Govt Notified Electoral Bonds schemes for Transparency and clean political funding but Is it really worth it ?
- Simply put, anybody can buy electoral bonds in the form of bearer bonds from specified branches of the State Bank of India and donate it anonymously to a political party of their choice & the party must cash the bonds within 14 days.
- All donations given to a party will be accounted for in the balance sheets but without exposing the donor details to the public.
- Donors continue to prize anonymity as they fear disclosure could invite adverse consequences from political opponents.
- As a result, the Election Commission (EC), the Income Tax department and the voter would remain in the dark about it.
- However, the ruling dispensation at the Centre, if it wants, can ferret out information on who’s funding whom from banking authorities on some pretext or the other.
Problems with Electoral Bonds :-
- It will not carry the name of the payee as there is reluctance to donate to parties through bank instruments citing loss of anonymity.
- Bonds will allow corporate houses to make anonymous donations through banking channels to the party of their choice. This would lead to further opacity in the funding process and further limit oversight and accountability.
- Electoral bonds cannot address the problems that arise from the corporate control over politics and corporate capture of government policies and decisions.
- Subversion that such anonymity affords is perhaps one of the biggest threats to our democracy today, it is the very wellspring of institutionalised corruption.
- The bonds scheme imposes no restrictions on the quantum of corporate donations. Rather it will result in unlimited and undeclared funds going to certain political parties which will be shielded from public scrutiny as the balance sheets will not show which party has been the beneficiary.
Electoral bonds must be seen in conjunction with:
- Lifting of the maximum limit of 7.5% on the proportion of the profits a company can donate to a political party, thus opening up the possibility of shell companies being set up specifically to fund parties.
- Amendment of the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA) opening the floodgates of foreign funding to political parties, especially those which have a foreign support base.
- The refusal of political parties to come under the RTI Act in order to conceal their sources of funding.
These three things will end up strengthening the business-politics nexus.
Steps against Transparency :-
- It goes against the position taken by various electoral reform committees that the existing pattern of political funding encourages lobbying and capture of the government by big donors.
- These bonds will go against the transparency of political finance that came as a result of RTI-driven public disclosure of income tax returns of political parties arguing that these disclosures were a matter of public interest and should be available to citizens but Proposed amendments to the Income Tax Act and the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) Act will exempt parties from keeping records of donations made through bonds.
- However, the decision to reduce cash contributions from ₹20,000 to ₹2,000 is a step in the right direction, but the net effect is debatable, since it could prompt parties to take smaller cash donations, and therefore not declare their source.
What can be the solution ?
- State funding of elections (in various forms) is a potential solution to this problem.
- The Indrajit Gupta Committee on State Funding of Elections had endorsed partial state funding of recognised political parties and their candidates in elections way back in 1998.
- The mechanics of this process need to be carefully worked out to establish the allocation of money to national parties, State parties and independent candidates, and to check candidate’s own expenditure over and above that which is provided by the state.
RED ALERT ON THE GREEN INDEX :-
- Out of the 180 countries assessed, India ranks low in the Environmental Performance Index (EPI) 2018, slipping from rank 141 in 2016, to 177 in 2018.
- The EPI is produced jointly by Yale University and Columbia University in collaboration with the World Economic Forum.
- In comparison, emerging peer economies, Brazil and China, rank 69 and 120, respectively.
- The EPI ranks countries on 24 performance indicators across 10 issue categories.
Recent Initiatives taken by Govt for environmental protection :-
- In December 2015, Govt notified new, strict environmental standards for coal-fired power plants, to be effective from January 2018.
- An aggressive target was set to implement Bharat Stage VI emission norms from April 1, 2020, skipping Stage V norms.
- In 2017, the Minister of State for Power and Renewable Energy said that a road map was being prepared so that only electric vehicles would be produced and sold in the country by 2030.
- In order to accelerate the transition to renewable sources of power, the government, under the National Solar Mission, revised the target for setting up solar capacity from 20 GW to 100 GW by 2021-22.
- The Centre has also assured the Supreme Court of India that the highly polluted Ganga will be cleaned up by 2018.
What are we missing then?
- The govt has gone back on its promise of implementing strict power plant emission norms by December 2017, and may even dilute the norms.
- The automobile industry has categorically stated that based on current estimates, full conversion to electric vehicles is realistically possible only by 2047.
- After setting electronics manufacturers a reasonable annual electronic waste collection target of 30% of the products sold in the market, the figure has now been relaxed to only 10%.
- And late last year, the Comptroller and Auditor General, in a report, pulled up the government for not developing an action plan and for its poor utilisation of allocated funds in the clean-up of the Ganga & many more
Should we ignore environmental degradation as being just a cost of development?
- The Answer is no because A recent study by the World Bank and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, University of Washington, Seattle, U.S., showed air pollution to be the cause of an estimated 1.4 million premature deaths in India, which translated into a welfare loss equivalent around 8% of India’s GDP in 2013.
- In addition, the cost of lost labour productivity was 0.84% of its GDP.
Solutions :- Viewing environmental problems from a purely market logic suggests that the solutions lie in recognising the environmental costs of development and “getting the prices right” like :-
- Rapid transition to solar energy can be accomplished not only by enabling subsidies but also by pricing the more polluting fuels correctly.
- The strict environmental standards for coal plants are expected to do precisely that — the price we pay for coal-based electricity reflect, at least partially, the true costs of producing such electricity.
- Similarly, the transition to electric vehicle use would be aided by pricing petrol and diesel, and perhaps the vehicles that use these fuels, to reflect their external costs to society.
However, we must ensure that we are moving forwards, not backwards, in meeting our environmental targets. Being among the four worst countries in the world in terms of environmental performance should hopefully serve as a wake-up call.