Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Congress, BJP mum on 75% of funds - By Manoj Mitta - The Times of India


The Times of India

Congress, BJP mum on 75% of funds

, TNN | Nov 12, 2013, 01.18 AM IST
Print Edition Headline: Mainstream parties opaque on funding - Newbie AAP, However, Claims to be Transparent Even On  Amounts Lower Than Those Required by Law

NEW DELHI: Is it a case of the pot, namely, the Congress-led government, calling the kettle, namely, Aam Aadmi Party, black? Or, is this about Arvind Kejriwal being hoist by his own petard? Underlying the announcement of a probe into the alleged foreign funding of AAP is its innovative legal interpretation, which is sharply at variance with that of the government and two leading parties, Congress and BJP.

In a departure from a long-entrenched practice, AAP professes to be transparent about the funding it has been receiving from abroad. It claims to have disclosed all the details on its website in keeping with its interpretation that the law permits donations from NRIs who are Indian citizens. Accordingly, it has also published the Indian passport numbers of all its donors from abroad. Though the law exempts political parties from revealing sources of donations worth less than Rs 20,000, AAP says that it has been disclosing even the donations that are below the lower limit.

While the two related claims of transparency by AAP will now be verified by the official inquiry, it is ironic that mainstream parties which are notoriously opaque about their funding sources are not being subjected to similar scrutiny. This is despite the fact that their funding is admittedly on a much larger scale and the recent report of the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) has shown that about 75% of their funding comes from unknown sources.

According to the ADR analysis of income tax returns and statements with the Election Commission, the total income of the six national parties from 2004-05 to 2011-12 was Rs 4,896 crores. Yet, for as much as Rs 3,675 crores, those parties gave no details of their sources. Given their general proclivity to be secretive about the sources and probably even the quantum of their income, the question whether donations can be received from NRIs holding Indian passports never arose in the case of parties like Congress and BJP.

From the details that have been disclosed by Congress and BJP, ADR filed a PIL earlier this year before the Delhi high court alleging that the two parties had been violating the Foreign Contribution Regulatory Act (FCRA) by receiving donations to the tune of tens of crores from foreign companies through their Indian subsidiaries. The one example cited in the PIL argued by AAP leader Prashant Bhushan is of UK-registered Vedanta Resources, in which Indian citizen Anil Agarwal holds at least 50% of the paid-up capital. Vedanta made donations to Congress and BJP through three of its Indian subsidiaries, Sterlite, Sesa Goa and MALCO.

In August, the home ministry and two leading political parties filed affidavits claiming that a political donation from the Indian subsidiary of a foreign company was permissible if an Indian held a majority shareholding in the foreign company. Making a similar interpretation of Section 591 of the Companies Act, all the three affidavits claimed that a donation by any foreign company through its Indian subsidiary would not be regarded as a foreign contribution so long as an Indian held a majority stake in the parent company.

ADR's rejoinder, however, asserted that the purpose of Section 591 was merely to ensure that Indian subsidiaries of a foreign company were accountable to Indian authorities. It said that this clause in the Companies Act could by no means be cited to circumvent the express prohibition on foreign contribution to political parties in FCRA and the Representation of the People Act. Little wonder that AAP is citing ADR's PIL to hit back at the rest of the political class, in the wake of the probe into the donations it had received from abroad.
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The Times of India

Probe Congress, BJP funds too, says Kejriwal - Print Edition Headline

Probing source of foreign funding to Aam Aadmi Party: Govt

, TNN | Nov 11, 2013, 02.35 PM IST
NEW DELHI: The Centre has initiated a probe into the source of funding of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), with the Union home ministry trying to establish if it received any money from foreign donors in violation of the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA).

"We have ordered an enquiry into funding of AAP to verify if any foreign donations were routed to it," Union home minister Sushilkumar Shinde told newspersons here a day after Delhi chief minister Shiela Dikshit questioned the source of nearly Rs 19 crore collected by the newly floated party led by activist-politician Arvind Kejriwal.

However, Shinde refused to put a timeline as to when the results of the enquiry would be available. "Such matters take time...one has to see from which foreign country the donations may be coming," he said, giving ample indications that the probe might continue well after the Delhi state polls, due on December 4.

The Representation of People Act (RPA) debars political parties from receiving contributions from a foreign source defined under clause (e) of the Section 2 of the FCRA, 1976. The FCRA, too, states that it has been formulated "to ensure that the foreign contribution and foreign hospitality is not utilized to affect or influence electoral politics, public servants, judges and other people working in the important areas of national life like journalists, printers and publishers of newspapers among others.

According to the AAP, it has collected Rs 19 crore as donations from around 63,000 individuals belonging to cross section of society. The party claims to have received donations ranging from Rs 10 to several lakhs, from rickshaw-pullers, traders, industrialists and NRIs .

"Our aim was to collect Rs 20 crore for Delhi assembly elections, and we would soon be achieving that target. Till the last week of September, we had collected around Rs 10 crore but within a span of a month, we have received Rs 9 crore as donations," said an AAP spokesperson.

The Delhi high court had on October 24 asked the government to enquire into whether any of the donations received by Aam Aadmi Party came from foreign source in violation of the FCRA. It asked the Centre to report by December 10 about the accounts of AAP.

The AAP, however, questioned the probe sought by the court on the basis of "mala fide" petition by advocate M L Sharma, "who has not made AAP a respondent but made Arvind Kejriwal, Manish Sisodia, Prashant Bhushan and Shanti Bhushan as respondents".

"Though the petition makes all types of ridiculous allegations against Team Anna and an NGO Kabir with which Manish Sisodia was associated, it does not disclose the result of an earlier petition filed by Sharma against foreign funding of Kabir. The government after full investigation had found everything to be in order," claimed AAP.

The AAP also drew attention to a similar petition filed by Association for Democratic Reforms questioning the funding of Congress and BJP by foreign firms like Vedanta. "The government has been dragging its feet in that case and has taken no action despite documentary evidence of substantial funding of the Congress and the BJP by foreign companies," alleged an AAP spokesperson.

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