SC to decide if electoral bonds plea should be heard by Constitution Bench in last week of January

A Bench comprising Justices B. R. Gavai and Vikram Nath heard petitions challenging the 2017 amendments on the electoral bonds scheme

December 15, 2022 01:42 pm | Updated 05:25 pm IST - NEW DELHI

The Supreme Court on Thursday agreed to examine in the last week of January a plea to refer to a Constitution Bench a series of petitions accusing the electoral bonds scheme of illegally facilitating anonymous donations to political parties days before polls are due.

A Bench led by Justice B. R. Gavai listed the case for the least week of January 2023.

Advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing for petitioner NGO Association for Democratic Reforms, requested the Court for an urgent hearing, saying the question of reference to a Constitution Bench could be heard and decided quickly at an early date.

Justice Gavai said the case had been pending since 2015. Mr. Bhushan said the petitioners had made several requests for early hearing.

The Bench however pointed out that there were no elections due in the interregnum before the last week of January even as the petitioners urged it to list the case for the first week of the new year.

Mr. Bhushan submitted there was now an election "every two or three months".

The case has a new petition which has challenged a recent government notification allowing the sale of electoral bonds for an additional 15 days in Assembly election years.

This petition has sought the quashing of the November 7 notification issued by the Finance Ministry amending the electoral bonds scheme. “An additional period of 15 days shall be specified by the central government in the year of general elections to the legislative assembly of states and Union territories with the legislature,” the gazette notification had said.

Earlier, a 30-day extra period for sale was allowed only in Lok Sabha election year.

In October, during a hearing in the case, the Court had asked the government whether the electoral bonds' system revealed the source of money pumped in to fund political parties even as the Centre had repeatedly maintained that the scheme was "absolutely transparent".

"The methodology of receiving money is absolutely transparent… It is impossible to get any black or unaccounted money in… To say that this (electoral bonds scheme) affects democracy may not hold water. We will take Your Lordships through this step-by-step," Solicitor General Tushar Mehta had replied for the government on that day.

The petitioners, also represented by senior advocate Kapil Sibal, had argued that the scheme affected the very idea of free and fair elections.

"Free and fair elections are central to a democracy. It is the Basic Structure… Now, an opaque way of funding political parties where you do not even know who is funding whom destroys the very concept of Article 324," Mr. Sibal had argued.

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