Chief Justice of India NV Ramana on Tuesday said that the Supreme Court will hear a long-pending case against the government’s electoral bonds scheme, Bar and Bench reported. The matter has been pending for over a year.
Electoral bonds are monetary instruments that citizens or corporate groups can buy from a bank and donate to any eligible political party, which is then free to redeem them for money.
Former Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had announced this scheme in his Budget speech in 2017, claiming the government wanted to clean up political funding and make it a transparent process.
However, the entire process is anonymous since no one is required to declare their purchase of these interest-free bonds and political parties do not need to show the source of the money. The money is unlikely to be “black” since it has to be given by cheque, the government had reasoned.
At Tuesday’s hearing, the chief justice said the court wanted to take up the matter earlier itself but could not do so because of the coronavirus pandemic, according to Live Law. “Let us see, we will take this up,” Ramana said.
Advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing for non-profit organisation, the Association for Democratic Reforms, said the case deserves an urgent hearing.
“It has been reported today morning that Calcutta based company has paid Rs 40 crores through electoral bonds to stop excise rate,” Bhushan said, reported Bar and Bench. “It is distorting democracy.”
In response, Ramana said that the Supreme Court will look into the matter.
Petitions before the Supreme Court have challenged the laws that enable issuance of electoral bonds.
In 2017, the Association for Democratic Reforms had filed a petition alleging corruption and subversion of democracy through this scheme, PTI reported.
In March 2021, the Association for Democratic Reforms had moved the Supreme Court seeking a direction to bar further sale of electoral bonds ahead of the Assembly elections in Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Assam, Kerala and in the Union Territory of Puducherry.
The NGO had argued that the electoral bonds scheme would result in a rise in illegal funding of political parties through shell companies.
“That the electoral Bonds scheme has opened the floodgates to unlimited corporate donations to political parties and anonymous financing by Indian as well as foreign companies which can have serious repercussions,” the plea read.
However, the Supreme Court had dismissed the application, Bar and Bench reported.
Kanhaiya Kumar’s RTI query
A Right to Information query filed by activist Kanhaiya Kumar revealed that the State Bank of India had sold electoral bonds worth Rs 1,213 crore in January, out of which bonds worth Rs 784.84 were encashed in the New Delhi branch.
Kumar stated that the value of the bonds sold this time was the highest ever in the run-up to Assembly elections in Goa, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Manipur and Uttar Pradesh since the beginning of the electoral bond scheme in 2018.
According to The Hindu, the amount of Rs 1,213 crore was nearly double that sold before the last Assembly elections in April 2021 (Rs 695 crore).
The next Assembly elections in Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat are expected to be held in December.