Citizens do not have the right to know the source of funds that political parties receive, the Union government on Sunday told the Supreme Court, The Times of India reported.
Attorney General R Venkataramani made the submission in a statement while responding to petitions challenging the electoral bonds scheme.
Electoral bonds are monetary instruments that citizens or corporate groups can buy from a bank and give to a political party, which is then free to redeem them. 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 Bharatiya Janata Party government at the Centre introduced the scheme in January 2018.
The Supreme Court’s Constitution bench headed by Chief Justice DY Chandrachud will begin hearing the case on Tuesday.
In his statement on Sunday, the attorney general argued that there can be no general right to know “anything and everything without being subjected to reasonable restrictions”, Live Law reported.
Venkataramani said that the Supreme Court’s 2020 ruling upholding that voters have a right to know about the election candidates’ criminal antecedents cannot be extrapolated to mean that the citizens have the right to information regarding the funding of political parties.
“The right to know as necessary for expression can be for specific ends or purposes and not otherwise,” he added.
The attorney general stated that the electoral bonds scheme does not impinge on the rights of citizens, and therefore the court need not intervene in the policy domain.
“A constitutional court reviews state action only if it impinges upon existing rights and not because State action has not provided for a possible right or an expectation howsoever desirable,” he said.
The attorney general added, “This is also not the case for Court driven guidelines. That contribution to political parties has democratic significance and a fit subject for political debate and demand of governance accountability free from influences does not mean that the Court will proceed to declare on such matters in the absence of a clear constitutionally offending law.”
The case against electoral bonds was first filed in the Supreme Court by the Association for Democratic Reforms in September 2017, but has since remained pending. On October 16, a three-judge bench comprising the chief justice and Justices JB Pardiwala and Manoj Mishra referred the matter to the five-judge Constitution bench “in view of the importance of issue raised”.
Advocate Prashant Bhushan, representing the petitioners, told the court on October 10 that anonymous funding of political parties violated the citizens’ Right to Information. He argued that the process also promoted corruption as it allowed companies who benefitted from the government to anonymously donate to ruling political parties.
Former Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had announced the scheme in his Budget speech in 2017, claiming the government wanted to clean up political funding and make it a transparent process.
The government has insisted that the money is unlikely to be “black” since it has to be given by cheque.