Electoral bonds promote ‘clean money’ donations to political parties, AG tells SC

Attorney General R. Venkataramani said citizens could not have a ‘general right to know anything and everything’

October 30, 2023 05:02 pm | Updated October 31, 2023 07:23 am IST - NEW DELHI

A sample electoral bond

A sample electoral bond

Attorney General of India R. Venkataramani has backed the government’s electoral bonds scheme in the Supreme Court, extolling it as a measure which promotes contribution of “clean money” to political parties.

Mr. Venkataramani said the scheme ensured that “tax obligations” were met.

Besides, the Attorney General argued that citizens could not have a “general right to know anything and everything without being subjected to reasonable restrictions [Article 19(2)]”.

The top law officer’s submissions comes shortly before a Constitution Bench headed by Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud is scheduled on October 31 to hear petitions which claim the electoral bonds scheme legalises the anonymous flow of funds to party coffers. Petitioners have argued that there is a complete blackout of the identities of donors, Indian or foreign, and the individual amounts they have donated to political parties. They said the scheme promoted corruption, favouritism and even criminalisation of politics in a democracy.

But Mr. Venkataramani said the right to know should be to serve “specific ends” and not for the benefit of “too over-broad” an idea like the “general health of democracy”.

He said, unlike the right to know the criminal antecedents of political candidates, petitioners could not claim a “general right to know anything and everything for undefined ends” in the electoral bonds scheme.

“The right to know the criminal antecedents of a candidate which can be of utility and relevance to the choice of a candidate is neither comparable to the case on hand nor can there be,” the Attorney General said.

Mr. Venkataramani said the scheme was a step towards the regulation of political donations.

“The scheme under challenge is regulatory within the scope of Article 19(2) of the Constitution. It facilitates transfer of funds to political parties of one’s choice through banking channels instead of direct inter-party transfer and ensures transfer by requiring tax abidance. In this way, it is a departure from prevalent modes of contributions which were not regulated,” Mr. Venkataramani distinguished.

The Attorney General said the scheme “extends the benefit of confidentiality to the contributor” and did not violate any “existing rights”.

“This is also not the case for court-driven guidelines… These are highly debatable matters and cannot be subjected to simplistic statements without parliamentary debates… Judicial review is not about scanning state policies for the purposes of suggesting better or different prescriptions,” the four-page written submissions contended.

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