When HW News checked the EC website at around 11 AM on Monday, the date of filing was July 27, 2018. However, at around 4 PM the date had been updated to October 31, 2018.
The free and fair elections are one of the foundation stones of a robust democracy. In India, the responsibility of conducting elections lies with the Election Commission of India. In the recent times, the institution has come under severe criticism with opposition party leaders alleging that the election commission is working under the influence of the ruling BJP. Though, the election commission has dismissed the allegations, time and again questions were raised on the credibility of the institution.
One such recent revelation made by an RTI activist has only added to the growing suspicion. According to a report, Madhya Pradesh-based RTI activist Ajay Dubey sent an email to the Election Commission and Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) on November 18, 2018. In the email, Dubey complained against the ruling BJP and 30 other parties for not submitting their contribution report even after the deadline i.e. October 31. A day later, Dubey met Chief Election Commissioner OP Rawat in Bhopal and submitted 5 pages long elaborated complaint. In the complaint letter, Dubey cited the information available on the EC website and said that according to the updates of November 1, 2018, BJP and 30 other political parties have failed to submit the Contribution Report (CR) within the prescribed time limit. In light of this, quick action should be taken.
What followed after his complaint definitely raises eyebrows! According to Dubey, on November 19, the link to the contribution report on the website was disabled. However, the very next day, the contribution report of BJP appeared on the website. Surprisingly, the date of filing mentioned on the website was July 27, 2018. Moreover, the date mentioned on the documents submitted by the BJP is October 31. The quick and almost shoddy developments in the issue after Dubey’s complaint led to a strong suspicion whether there has been a meddling in the process of filing Contribution Report of BJP? Was the report backdated? It also begs us question whether EC is also party to it?
Further, an NDTV report points out to the many parts of the reports which beg a question whether there has been a procedural change to enable BJP to file their Contribution report even after the set deadline.
But let us first know what is a Contribution Report and why political parties have to file it with Election Commission of India.
What is a Contribution Report?
The political parties are expected to submit an annual report to the Election Commission of India listing the donations above rupees 20000 that they have received. This report is called a ‘Contribution/ Donation Report’. Talking to HW News, Laxmi Sriram who works with the Association of Democratic Reforms said that the donation report (Contribution Report) that the political parties file with the EC is not mandatory. “They (Political Parties) are required to submit the copies of the donation report before the due date of filing of their IT returns. And only if they file their donation report they get a 100% tax exemption. Even if it says in one line that they have not received donations above rupees 20,000 that is considered valid,” she said.
Upon receipt of these documents, the EC sends a letter to the Income Tax Department confirming that particular party has submitted their Donation report. In case the political party does not file a donation report within the stipulated period, ECI sends three reminders to the president or the treasurer of the political party. “In case, the party does not respond to the reminders, it is not further pursued by the EC,” Ms Laxmi said.
However, a scrutiny of the Donation reports of the political parties indicates that a different route of procedure seems to have been followed for BJP.
The process followed by ECI for the filing of documents?
When a political party submits the contribution report to the EC, the details are first recorded on the R & I section (reception section). The date and the diary number is entered on the cover of the report followed by a stamp. The Report is then sent to the Political Participation Expenditure Monitoring Section (PPEMS). Here, again a date and diary number are entered on the cover and stamp of the PPEMS section is put up.
However, the Contribution Report filed by the BJP only has the stamp by PPEMS. The initial stamp along with the R & I entry is not registered on the document. So was the initial step in the procedure of filing of Contribution report skipped for BJP? Why did other political parties go through the two layers of registration?
Ajay Dubey, the RTI activist talking to HW News said, “The report being directly sent to the DG expenditure and the website going down after the complaint, raises suspicion.” The election commission should issue a clarification on what is the truth, he demanded.
According to the NDTV report, the BJP also hasn’t submitted certificates from the companies it has received donations from which mandatory under section 182 of the Companies Act.
Was the report backdated to help BJP get tax exemption?
If the Contribution report of BJP was submitted on November 20 (days after the deadline), the party clearly does not qualify to get a tax exemption as per the provisions of Representative of people Act, 1951. On the other hand, another provision of the act (Section 29 C) says that only if the parties file their tax returns and Contribution report before the given deadline, they will be eligible for the tax exemption.
The BJP, in the year 2016-2017 declared an income of Rs 1,034 crore which is the highest among all the political parties in India. The donation to the party from unknown sources only amounted to rupees 710 crores. Not filing contribution report on time means BJP would have to lose out on the tax exemption.
So, was the report backdated to help BJP get tax exemption?
What HW News found?
To verify the claims, HW News checked the website of Election Commission of India. The information column at the right of BJP’s contribution report section showed the date of filing. Here’s where things get a little murky. When HW News checked the website at around 11 AM in the morning, the date of filing was July 27, 2018. However, at around 4 PM when we checked the website again, the date had been updated to October 31, 2018. Was this an error? If it was why did the ECI not clear it after making the corrections?
The rather prompt and surprising developments in the case not only need a clarification from the Election Commission but also from the BJP. It will definitely put a question mark on the credibility of the ECI if it fails to answer the questions!