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Firm whose profit was not even Rs 2 crore, bought electoral bonds worth Rs 183 crore

Several firms gave the donations many times more than their net profits. Madanlal Limited — a Kolkata-based company — which bought bonds worth Rs 182.5 crore twice before the 2019 general elections, while its net profit during that period was only Rs 1.81 crore. In 2020-21, it rose Rs 2.72 crore but declined to just Rs 44 lakh in 2022-23

New Delhi: Shocking revelations are pouring in since the data on electoral bonds (provided by the State Bank of India or SBI) was published on the website of the Election Commission on March 14 in accordance with a Supreme Court order. There are 30 companies, which gave huge donations to political parties immediately after a raid carried out by Central agencies such as the Enforcement Directorate (ED), Income Tax (IT) department, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) among others.

Several firms gave the donations many times more than their net profits. One such business entity is Madanlal Limited — a Kolkata-based company — which bought bonds worth Rs 182.5 crore twice before the 2019 general elections, while its net profit during that period was only Rs 1.81 crore. In 2020-21, it rose Rs 2.72 crore but declined to just Rs 44 lakh in 2022-23.

This is not the end of the story. Of the 30 companies, which made the highest donations, there are 14 firms against which Central or state investigating agencies have initiated actions.

For example, the DLF Commercial donated Rs 30 crore after it was raided by the CBI in January 2019 over alleged irregularities in land allotment.

Similarly, a relatively unknown business — the Future Gaming and Hotel Services — managed by “Lottery King” Santiago Martin tops the list of donors. Its contributions to the Electoral Bonds Scheme (EBS) from 2019 to 2024 stood at Rs 1,368 crore — over six times higher than its net profit, which was Rs 215 crore within the period.

However, the company has been under ED investigation since 2019 because of alleged violations of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA). The agency raided it in May 2023 in Chennai and Coimbatore. The ED’s action was prompted by a CBI chargesheet — which accused Future Gaming of participating in Sikkim government lotteries in Kerala and allegedly, costing the northeastern state a loss of Rs 910 crore between April 2009 and August 2010.

Reliance Industries-linked Qwik Supply Chain Private Limited — a little-known business, which manufactures storage units and warehouses — was the third-largest donor to political parties, using electoral bonds.

It purchased electoral bonds worth Rs 410 crore during the financial years 2021-22 and 2023-24 to give away to political parties, though its net profit for the same year was a mere Rs 21.72 crore. It acquired extra bonds in 2023–2024 for a total of Rs 50 crore.

Similarly, four firms connected to the Kolkata-based Keventer group of companies donated more than Rs 600 crore through electoral bonds between April 2019 and January 2024. This indicates that the group purchased the most number of bonds, following the Future Gaming and Hotel Services and the Hyderabad-based Megha group of companies.

Led by entrepreneur Mahendra Kumar Jalan, the group has a variety of businesses, including real estate and food processing.

A year after the ED launched an investigation against one of the group’s companies — Keventer Agro Limited — in October 2019 over a purported disinvestment scheme, involving hundreds of crores of rupees, the firms associated with the conglomerate started buying the anonymous bonds.

In February 2021, the ED raided the group’s Kolkata office as the four entities were purchasing bonds. Nine months later, in September 2022, the Supreme Court ruled in its favor, rejecting an appeal that called for a separate inquiry into the case.

The fifth in the list is Keventer Foodpark Infra Limited, which purchased 204 bonds worth Rs 195 crore. The firm also acquired bonds under the names of other companies owned by the group — Madanlal Ltd (199 bonds worth Rs 185.5 crore) and MKJ Enterprises Ltd (324 bonds for Rs 192.42 crore).

However, MKJ’s net profit during the period was mere Rs 58 crore.

Donations made by healthcare and liquor firms

Fourteen companies, manufacturing health care equipment and medicines, have donated Rs 534 crore — with individual firms purchasing bonds worth Rs  20-100 crores. These include Dr. Reddy’s Lab, Torrent Pharma, Natco Pharma, Divis Lab, Aurobindo Pharma, Cipla, Sun Pharma Lab, Hetero Drugs, Zydus Healthcare and Mankind Pharma.

Similarly, in the past five years, liquor companies purchased bonds worth Rs 34.54 crore. Kolkata’s Castle Liquor acquired it for Rs 7.5 crores, Bhopal’s Som Group Rs 3 crore, Chhattisgarh Distilleries Rs 3 crore, Madhya Pradesh’s M/S Everest Beverages Rs 1.99 crore and Esso Alcohol Rs 2 crore.

Records of many companies are not updated

Abhijeet Mitra’s Searock Infra Project, a Kolkata-based firm, bought bonds worth Rs 4.25 crore. Its total share capital is only Rs 6.40 lakh. The last board meeting of the company was held in 2022, but there has been no update for two years.

Owned by one Anil Shetty, S. Urban Developers, a Hyderabad-based company that bought Mehul Choksi’s AP Gems & Jewelry in 2022, purchased bonds worth Rs 10 crore on 17 November 2023.

Chennai Greenwood, owned by Gautam Hora, acquired bonds worth Rs 105 crore. However, the firm’s share capital is just Rs 43 crore.

Crescent Power bought bonds worth Rs 34 crore — which was 10% of its profit that totalled at Rs 346 crore.

The SBI sold 28,030 bonds worth Rs 16,518 crore from March 1, 2018 to February 15, 2024. Currently, information about only 18,871 bonds has been furnished by the state lender to the ECI. As per the apex court’s order, the bank has to make information public about the remaining 9,159 bonds worth Rs 4002 crore by March 17.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court on March 15 issued a notice to the SBI, asking why it did not disclose to the election watchdog the unique alphanumeric numbers that contain complete details of the bonds, including date of purchase, name of the buyer, category, etc. The top court in its March 11 order had directed the bank to reveal all details of the bonds acquired.

Headed by Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud, a bench comprising Justice Sanjiv Khanna, Justice BR Gavai, Justice JB Pardiwala and Justice Manoj Mishra were hearing the petition by the EC. The bench said that SBI should reply by March 18 for not providing information about the number.

The court directed the registry to scan and digitize the data received from the EC by 5 pm on March 16. After completion of the process, the original copy should be returned to the Commission. A copy should be kept in the court and then this data should be uploaded on the Election Commission website by March 17.

EC says that it has given the documents to the apex court in two installments, containing data from April 2019 to November 2023. The first tranche contained 106 sealed envelopes and the second 523. The Commission says that this data can be uploaded only after the SBI gets back to it with the other necessary details.

Hearing a petition filed by the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), the court banned the Electoral Bond Scheme for political funding with immediate effect — calling it “unconstitutional”. “Maintaining the secrecy of the bond is unconstitutional,” observed the highest judiciary, saying that the scheme is a “violation of the Right to Information”.

The court had asked the SBI to provide the details by March 12 and the ECI to publish it on its website by March 15. The bank on March 11 approached the court, urging that it be granted time till June 30. But the plea was rejected.

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