Won’t stay electoral bonds scheme even now: CJI

On April 12 last, SC passed an interim order directing parties to provide total information to ECI in sealed covers but did not stay the scheme.

January 20, 2020 12:01 pm | Updated November 28, 2021 12:21 pm IST - NEW DELHI

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.

Also read |Parley: Have electoral bonds made a bad system worse?

“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.

Also read | Explained: What is an electoral bond and how do we get one?

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.

Also read |The opacity around electoral bonds

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. 

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