A Constitution Bench headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) D.Y. Chandrachud on November 2 reserved its judgment on petitions challenging the validity of the electoral bonds scheme. The proceedings spanning over a period of three days focused on arguments pertaining to the voters’ right to information vis-a-vis the right to confidentiality of donors.
The bench also directed the Election Commission of India (ECI) to submit within two weeks information on the receipt of electoral bonds by political parties till September 30. The details are to be provided in a sealed cover.
“We will not ask the SBI (State Bank of India) to reveal the identity of donors at this stage. That nobody is interested in at the present stage but we would like to know the quantum”, the Chief Justice clarified.
During the proceedings, the court also expressed displeasure at the ECI for not having updated data on donations in adherence with its interim order passed on April 12, 2019. It was pointed out that the Commission was under an obligation to continue collecting the data.
Earlier, the bench had flagged how the ‘selective anonymity’ of the scheme makes it easier for the ruling party to obtain information about the donors of the Opposition parties qua law enforcement agencies. It was also highlighted that the scheme in its attempt to bring white money into the political funding process is creating a ‘complete information blackhole’.
Defending the scheme, the Solicitor General said that anonymity is required in donations made through electoral bonds to ensure that there is no apprehension of retribution from other political parties. He added that prior government initiatives aimed at addressing the use of unaccounted cash for political donations had proven unsuccessful because donors were insistent on maintaining their confidentiality.
The petitioners however reasoned that the “right to know the funding of a political party is a fundamental right”. They also apprised the court that electoral bonds as “legalised kickbacks”, which destroy democracy and skew the level playing field during elections. Over 90% of the donations go to ruling parties, making it apparent that they are meant for favours done or anticipated, it was contended.
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