On the legality of the electoral bond scheme brought in for donations to political parties, a five-judge Constitution bench of the Supreme Court has said that it will not suggest going back to the cash-only donation system for political parties, but the existing system. Serious deficiencies should be removed. The court said that the electoral bond scheme launched in January, 2018 has reduced cash in the electoral process and encouraged the use of authorized banking channels, but transparency is required. Bribery and favoritism should not be legalised. The Supreme Court has asked the Election Commission to provide details of donations received by the country’s political parties through electoral bonds by September 30, 2023, but reserved its decision on the petitions challenging the validity of the electoral bond scheme.
A Constitution bench comprising Chief Justice DY Chandrachud, Justice Sanjiv Khanna, Justice BR Gavai, Justice JB Pardiwala and Justice Manoj Mishra asked the Election Commission to collect the data of funds from State Bank of India and political parties and seal it to the Registrar of the apex court within two weeks. Instructed to hand it over in an envelope. The top court also asked the Election Commission why despite the order no data was filed after 2019? The bench said, we do not want to go back to cash only system. What we are asking is to do it in a proportionate and tailored system which can address the serious shortcomings of this electoral bond system. The Constitution Bench emphasized that only the legislature or the executive can perform such a function and the Court will not step into that area. The Constitution Bench highlighted five considerations that may be taken into consideration. These five ideas are, need to reduce cash in the election process, need to encourage authorized banking channels and their use, transparency, prevention of brokering and legalization of vendetta.
CJI Chandrachud said, earlier only one per cent of the net profit was allowed to be donated. Now even a company with zero turnover can donate. SG Mehta said, only a profit making company can donate. However, the CJI said that in the absence of a requirement to allow donation of only a specific percentage by a company, even a company with a profit of just Rs 1 can donate. The bench suggested to the Election Commission that an alternative system for political donations could be devised to remove the shortcomings affecting the existing electoral bond system.
It is noteworthy that while presenting the figures of donations received by political parties, Association for Democratic Reform (ADR) lawyer Prashant Bhushan had said that looking at them, it shows that the ruling parties got the maximum donations from electoral bonds. He said that this plan will destroy democracy. Bhushan said that the electoral bond scheme actually hinders and destroys the country’s democracy because the scheme does not provide equal opportunities to the ruling party and the opposition party and independent candidates. Last day Attorney General R. Venkataramani had told the apex court that under Article 19(1)(A) of the Constitution, citizens do not have the right to demand information about the source of money. During the hearing, the court told the Election Commission’s lawyer that in its interim order on April 12, 2019, the court had ordered to give all the details including the names of the donors in a sealed envelope to the Election Commission. Commission’s lawyer Amit Sharma said that he will give the details to the court.
It is noteworthy that when the law was being drafted to implement the Electoral Bond Scheme, the government had argued that the enactment of this law would bring transparency in raising funds for elections and would also curb corruption, but the government lawyer The matter put before the court is contrary to the above sentiment.
In a democratic system, if the government does not provide information to the public regarding any issue, it will have a negative impact on the democratic system itself. It is in the interest of democracy to bring more transparency in electoral bonds. This will further strengthen people’s faith in the system.
– Irwin Khanna (Chief Editor, Dainik Uttam Hindu)