The Supreme Court on Wednesday agreed to hear in January 2020 an application filed by advocate Prashant Bhushan to stay the implementation of the electoral bonds scheme, LiveLaw reported.
A bench headed by Chief Justice of India SA Bobde took note of the submissions.
Electoral bonds are monetary instruments that citizens or corporate groups can buy from the State Bank of India and give to a political party, which is then free to redeem them for money. These bonds are anonymous. The scheme was notified in January 2018.
Bhushan, appearing for petitioner the Association of Democratic Reforms, said “the scheme opened the floodgates of unlimited corporate donations to political parties and anonymous financing by Indian as well as foreign companies that can have serious repercussions on democracy in the country”.
ADR filed a writ petition in 2017 challenging as many as five amendments brought to various legislations in order to facilitate the implementation of the scheme. The main questions in the petition were yet to be answered by the top court. It sought a stay on the scheme after a number of news stories, including a five-part series in the Huffington Post based on documents received by Right to Information activist Commodore Lokesh Batra, exposed claims regarding the bonds anonymity and revealed the Reserve Bank of India’s and Election Commission’s reservations about them.
In its stay application, ADR said the central bank gave repeated warnings to the government against the electoral bond scheme stating that it has “the potential to increase black money circulation, money laundering, cross-border counterfeiting and forgery”.
The application also referred to letters written by former Reserve Bank Governor Urjit Patel to then Finance Minister Arun Jaitley stating that the “issue of EBs as bearer instruments in the manner currently contemplated has the possibility of misuse more particularly through use of shell companies”.
The objections raised by the poll body were also highlighted in the application. The commission had described this a “retrograde step as far as transparency of donations is concerned” and called for withdrawal of the amendment.
The Congress had claimed that electoral bonds had become instruments of anonymous political funding “bordering on opaque money laundering”. However, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on November 26 took a dig at those opposed to the electoral bonds scheme, and said some people have problems with anything that is done to ensure transparency.