New Delhi: The sale of electoral bonds has skyrocketed ahead of Lok Sabha Elections 2019 by 62% as compared to last year with State Bank of India (SBI) selling bonds worth more than 1,700 crore, an RTI reply shows. In an RTI response to Pune-based Vihar Durve, SBI said that in 2018, it had sold bonds worth 1,056.73 crore in March, April, May, July, October and November. This year, in January and March, the bank has sold electoral bonds worth 1,716.05 crore.

India goes to polls this month with first phase of voting to take place on 11 April.

The sale of electoral bonds opens in SBI branches when the union finance ministry issues notification of the sale for a given period.

According to SBI data, Mumbai bought electoral bonds worth 495.60 crore, the highest in India, followed by Kolkata ( 370.07 crore), Hyderabad ( 290.50 crore), Delhi ( 205.92 crore) and Bhubaneswar ( 194 crore).

The electoral bonds scheme, notified by the central government in 2018, has been challenged in the Supreme Court. Only the political parties registered under Section 29A of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 (43 of 1951) and which secured not less than 1% of the votes polled in the last general election shall be eligible to receive the electoral bonds.

The bonds may be purchased by a person who is a citizen of India "or incorporated or established in India," the government had said in a statement last year. The electoral bonds remain valid for 15 days and can be encashed by an eligible political party only through a bank account with the authorised bank within that period only.

A voluntary group working in the field of electoral reforms, Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) has demanded a stay on the sale while Communist Party of India (Marxist), or COM, has challenged it before the Supreme Court in separate petitions.

ADR recently filed an application in the apex court seeking stay on the Electoral Bond Scheme, 2018, which was notified by the Centre in January last year. It said that amendments carried out in relevant Acts have "opened the floodgates to unlimited corporate donations to political parties and anonymous financing by Indian as well as foreign companies which can have serious repercussions on the Indian democracy".

The EC, which has filed affidavit in the apex court, said that on 26 May 2017, it had written to the Ministry of Law and Justice about its views that the changes made in the Income Tax Act, the Representation of People Act and the Finance Act would be against the endeavour to have transparency in funding to political parties.