Supreme Court agrees to consider plea to stay implementation of electoral bonds scheme

A view of the Supreme Court of India in New Delhi.

A view of the Supreme Court of India in New Delhi.   | Photo Credit: Sushil Kumar Verma

Attorney-General K.K. Venugopal dismissed advocate Prashant Bhushan’s appeal as an “election speech”.

The Supreme Court on Friday agreed to consider a plea made by advocate Prashant Bhushan to stay the implementation of the electoral bonds scheme even as Attorney-General K.K. Venugopal dismissed the noted civil rights lawyer’s appeal as an “election speech”.

“It is election time, Mr. Attorney,” Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi reacted to Mr. Venugopal.

Mr. Bhushan, appearing for petitioner NGO Association of Democratic Reforms, said “thousands of crores are given anonymously by donors to political parties and 95% of the donations are given to the ruling party”.

Chief Justice Gogoi asked Mr. Bhushan to bring his allegations on record, if he has not done so as yet. “This requires detailed hearing. We will hear it on Wednesday (April 10),” the Chief Justice said.

Mr. Bhushan said the “Crores are being circulated… this is the extent of black money coming in. Everybody, including the Election Commission of India (ECI), said this would happen.”

To this, Mr. Venugopal rose to intervene, “my friend here is making an election speech”.

The exchange in court comes a day after the government countered the ECI’s position that protecting the anonymity of political donors under the electoral bonds scheme was a “retrogade step”.

Electoral bonds scheme allows anonymity to political donors to protect them from “political victimisation”, the government has maintained in its rejoinder to the ECI affidavit in the apex court.

The Ministry of Finance described the shroud of secrecy cast around political donors as a product of “well thought-out policy considerations”. It said the earlier system of cash donations had raised a “concern among the donors that, with their identity revealed, there would be competitive pressure from different political parties receiving donation”.

The government had said electoral bonds achieve the twin purposes of greater accountability in political funding as well as anonymity of the donor.

The ECI had flagged how donors need not provide their names, address or PAN if they have contributed less than ₹20,000. Now, many political parties are reporting donations less than ₹20,000. The poll body has a hit a wall in its enquiries whether these donations are sourced illegally from government companies or foreign sources.

ECI had recently lashed out at the electoral bonds scheme, saying it would open the doors for pumping in black money.

The government however maintained that reforms like the electoral bonds scheme usher in a “marked shift” from the old system of massive cash donations to political parties. The identity of neither the donor nor the recipient political party was known. There was no accountability on how the cash was spent. Political funding had become a “parallel economy”. Political parties were floated merely to generate and handle tainted cash.

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Printable version | May 30, 2020 7:31:55 AM |

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