Electoral bonds verdict: Matching buyers of electoral bonds with recipients could be tricky, say activists

According to data by Association for Democratic Reforms, the collective amount of funds generated through the sale of electoral bonds between March 2018 and January 2024 is ₹16,518.11 crore

Updated - February 16, 2024 12:38 pm IST

Published - February 15, 2024 10:17 pm IST - New Delhi

The Supreme Court has struck down the Electoral Bonds Scheme as unconstitutional

The Supreme Court has struck down the Electoral Bonds Scheme as unconstitutional

As the Supreme Court struck down the Electoral Bonds Scheme as unconstitutional, the big question is whether the public can know which individual or corporate entity contributed how much through the bonds to which political party. Some petitioners and activists feel this was a tricky area.

According to data by the Association for Democratic Reforms, which was the chief petitioner in the case in the court, the collective amount of funds generated through the sale of electoral bonds between March 2018 and January 2024 is ₹16,518.11 crore.

Supreme Court verdict on electoral bonds | Updates, political reactions

On Thursday, the apex court asked the State Bank of India to submit details of the electoral bonds purchased since the interim order of the court dated April 12, 2019 till date to the Election Commission. The details have to include the date of purchase of each bond, the name of the purchaser and the denomination purchased. The SBI shall also submit the details of political parties which have received contributions through the bonds and must disclose details of each bond encashed by them.

The public sector bank has to submit the above information to the EC within three weeks from the date of Thursday’s judgment, that is, by March 6, 2024. The EC in turn has to publish the information shared by the SBI on its official website within one week of the receipt of the information, that is, by March 13, 2024, the court said.

Also Read: Why did the Supreme Court strike down the electoral bonds scheme? | Explained

In an official statement, the ADR said the Supreme Court had given a big boost to Indian democracy.

Prof. Jagdeep Chhokar, Founder-Member and Trustee of the ADR, said if one goes by the court’s directions to the SBI and the EC, then it can be known who contributed to which party.

‘Landmark verdict’

RTI activist Anjali Bhardwaj, who is a member of the board of Common Cause, which is one of the petitioners, though feels this was a tricky area even as she hailed the judgment as a “landmark verdict”.

According to her, despite the disclosures, it may be difficult to know exactly who contributed to which party through electoral bonds since the design of the scheme is such that each bond by itself is not uniquely traceable and the bonds are of fixed denominations.

Sanjay Hegde, one of the lawyers, who appeared for an intervener in the case, told The Hindu that the SBI will have to disclose the name of the buyers and the date of purchase. “But recipients may not be mapped immediately. A bond may have changed many hands before donations. Sufficient data will emerge to triangulate with publicly available data”.

According to the Electoral Bond Scheme, 2018, a bond is issued in the nature of a promissory note, which shall be bearer in character. A bearer instrument is one which does not carry the name of the buyer or payee, no ownership information is recorded and the holder of the instrument (i.e. political party) is presumed to be its owner. These bonds have to be redeemed by the political parties within 15 days.

The scheme was introduced in the Finance Bill in 2017 and in September that same year, the ADR moved the Supreme Court challenging the scheme. In October, the court issued notices to the Centre and the Election Commission on the PIL filed by the NGO.

The scheme was notified by the Centre on January 2, 2018.

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