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As Electoral Bond data is published, opposition uses old Electoral Trust data to accuse Serum Institute of donating to BJP to get vaccine order, here is how the claims are baseless

Companies generally pay kickbacks when there is competition among several bidders to get an order/contract. But this was not the case with Covid vaccines in 2020 and 2021, when governments were competing with each other to procure vaccines

The Election Commission of India on Thursday evening released the data of Electoral Bonds bought by various entities from the State Bank of India and the recipients of such bonds, complying with a Supreme Court order. Soon after the data was released in the form of two sheets, allegations and counter-allegations have started. Contrary to the believe of the opposition parties, the names of many companies, that they were accusing of donating heavily to BJP, do not feature in the list of the buyers of electoral bonds.

However, a Reuters report, published curiously earlier in the day before EC released the data, is being used by the opposition to allege that companies donated heavily through Electoral Bonds in return of favours from the govt. However, while the Reuters report is regarding donations to political parties by corporate houses, this has nothing to do with electoral bonds, and the report is based on already publicly available data.

Several opposition leaders and supporters particularly targeted Serum Institute for donating to the BJP, alleging that they used Electoral Bonds to make the donations. They alleged quid pro quo, claiming that the Modi govt bought the Covid-19 vaccine from the world’s largest vaccine maker in exchange for this donation.

Some of them alleged that the govt didn’t allow other vaccines because of the ₹50 crore donation from Serum. Several social media users also shared images of Adoor Poonawalla to allege links with the company with the BJP.

There are several issues with these baseless allegations. The first is that Serum Institute didn’t make any donations through electoral bonds, the company’s name does not appear in the list published by the EC based on data provided by State Bank of India. The screenshot of the donations that the social media users are sharing is from the Reuters report, which was about Electoral Trusts, not Electoral Bonds.

Electoral Trusts are different forms of making donations to political parties, where companies make contributions to the trusts, and the trusts contribute to the parties for election expenses. While Electoral Bond data was kept confidential before the Supreme Court ordered it to be published, the Electoral Trust data is regularly published by the Election Commission on its website. Donations made to Electoral Trusts are exempt from tax, and that is why it is popular with corporations to make political donations.

The screenshot was taken from the Reuters report titled Obscure trust links India’s top businesses with Modi’s election war chest, which alleged that an “obscure trust” named Prudent Electoral Trust was used by several companies to make donations to the BJP. The report itself states, “Reuters used public records from 2018 to 2023 to track flows from some of India’s largest companies,” which means they just compiled and published data available in the public domain, and it is not some new disclosure.

The report states that Prudent Electoral Trust received significant amounts of contributions from corporate houses like Bharti Airtel, ArcelorMittal Nippon Steel, GMR, Essar etc, and the Trust in turn donated to political parties, with the majority share going to BJP. As per Reuters analysis, BJP received 74.8% of the contributions by Prudent, while the rest went to the other parties.

Details of all the donations received and donations made by Prudent, and all other Electoral Trusts, are available on the Election Commission website. It shows that the Trust received ₹363.16 crore in the year 2022-23, while it donated ₹363.15 crore to various political parties. Apart from BJP, the trust distributed money to BRS, YSR Congress and AAP in the same year. BRS, which is present in only one state, received ₹90 crore from Prudent Trust in 2022-23.

The Electoral Trusts were introduced by the Congress government in 2013, through the Electoral Trusts Scheme. As per this scheme, 95% of the contributions received by a Trust must be distributed to parties in the same financial year. The scheme prohibits donations by cash, and the PAN number of the contributor is mandatory, making sure that black money can’t be routed to political parties.

At present, there are 13 such trusts listed on the ECI website. The site also contains annual reports of all the trusts from 2013-14 to 2022-23, giving details on donations received from corporations and donations made to political parties every year. Therefore, the Reuters report is not some new revelation, it has been in the public domain.

A cursory glance at the reports of the various trusts shows that the BJP is the major recipient of donations in white money through Electoral Trusts. But the fact remains that the scheme was introduced by the Congress government in 2013.

Serum Institute and vaccine order

Now coming to the allegation that Serum donated to BJP because of the COVID-19 order, this is a completely baseless and illogical accusation. The Trust report shows that Serum donated ₹50 crore to Prudent in August 2022, which could have been further donated to BJP. But this comes over two years after the Covishield vaccine was introduced, and after over two billion doses of the vaccines were administered to Indians.

The opposition is alleging that the govt didn’t approve other COVID-19 vaccines because of the donations from Serum, which is completely false. Several vaccines Covid vaccines have been approved by the Indian govt, including Covishield, Covaxin, Sputnik, Janssen, ZyCoV-D, Corbevax, Covovax, BBV154 and others. The one vaccine not approved in India, which is causing heartburn among left-liberals, is the Pfizer vaccine. And they are alleging that this is was not approved due to the donation.

However, the Pfizer vaccine was not approved because the company demanded legal immunity from any damage caused by the vaccines. Moreover, the mRNA vaccines by Pfizer and Moderna were very expensive, and as India had already started making vaccines in the country on a bulk scale, there was no reason to import expensive vaccines, that too after granting immunity to the company.

The claim that Serum will need to make donations to the ruling party to get the vaccine order is completely illogical. Perhaps the opposition has already forgotten the pandemic, but this was a time when countries were rushing to procure as many vaccines as they could. Companies generally pay kickbacks when there is competition among several bidders to get an order/contract.

But this was not the case with Covid vaccines in 2020 and 2021. Vaccines were just being developed and manufactured in limited quantities, with Western countries keeping the majority of them for themselves. India was one of the few countries to produce the vaccines, and large quantities were ordered by the govt from Serum and Bharat Biotech to administer to the citizens, apart from exporting to other countries. Even if the Indian govt didn’t order the vaccines, Serum could have sold their vaccines to other countries and international organisations like Gavi. They were not competing with other companies to sell their vaccines, but the governments were competing against each other to procure vaccines.

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Raju Das
Raju Das
Corporate Dropout, Freelance Translator

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