Chief Justice of India (CJI) Sharad A. Bobde on Monday orally made it clear that if the Supreme Court had found it unnecessary to stay the electoral bonds scheme (EBS), it may not stay the scheme even now.
The comments came on a fervent plea by advocates Prashant Bhushan and Shadan Farasat that new facts had come up indicating that the scheme was being frequently opened to allow funds to fill the coffers of the ruling party.
Mr. Bhushan said the scheme would be opened again now with the Delhi elections scheduled on February 8. Instead of opening the scheme exclusively for the Lok Sabha elections, as envisaged, it had become a mechanism to funnel benami funds to fuel political parties. Both the Election Commission of India (ECI) and the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) had strongly objected to the scheme and raised the red flag against it.
Mr. Farasat said that over ₹6,000 crore had been drawn in through the scheme recently. They sought a stay of the scheme.
On April 12 last, the Supreme Court passed an interim order directing political parties to provide complete information to the ECI in sealed covers on every single donor and contribution received by them till date through electoral bonds. However, it did not stay the operation of the scheme.
“If the matter has been argued for stay and it was not granted, we will also not grant it,” the CJI said.
Mr. Bhushan reiterated that the court should consider the scheme with a new eye as many novel and disturbing facts had come to the fore since April 12.
The court initially gave four weeks to the ECI to file a reply to the plea for a stay on the scheme. However, Mr. Bhushan argued that it would be too late by then as Delhi elections were due on February 8. The court then asked the ECI to file its reply in a fortnight.
Directive to political parties
The April 12 interim order was meant to ensure that the balance was not tilted in anybody’s favour before the May last general elections. The court then ordered political parties to forthwith provide the ECI with “detailed particulars of the donors as against the each bond; the amount of each such bond and the full particulars of the credit received against each bond, namely, the particulars of the bank account to which the amount has been credited and the date of each such credit”.
Mr. Bhushan, representing petitioner NGO Association of Democratic Reforms, argued that 95% of the payments through electoral bonds till date had been routed to the BJP. The ECI submitted that a lion’s share of the contributions via electoral bonds had gone to the ruling party.
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The government has justified the scheme as an experiment to eradicate black money. It claimed that the impact of the EBS would be known only after the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. It should meanwhile be allowed a free hand to execute its policy and the apex court should not pass any orders in the matter for the present.
The government’s position is in stark contrast to the ECI’s stand. The ECI has expressed reservations about the transparency in political funding. It submitted to the apex court that electoral bonds legalised anonymity of political donors and the parties receiving contributions. It maintained that the right to vote also meant the right to make an informed choice. It said that knowing the candidate was only “half the exercise”. The voters should also know the source of funding of political parties who prop up these candidates.