The Union Ministry of Law and Justice approved the Narendra Modi-led government’s decision to hastily pass the electoral bonds scheme, bypassing the Rajya Sabha, despite putting on record that the government’s strategy was illegal and unconstitutional, HuffPost India reported on Tuesday. The news website said it has reviewed documents that were accessed by a Right to Information activist.
In a two-page note, the law ministry said this illegal strategy was a “one-off exception” and urged the government to avoid using this method as a precedent, the documents showed.
Further, minutes of official meetings allowing even shell companies to secretly donate to political parties under the scheme were not recorded. This is illegal as per a Supreme Court order from 2013 on how official minutes must be recorded, and breaches the Manual of Office Procedure of the Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions. The ministry reports directly to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
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.
To bring in the scheme, the Centre had amended various provisions of the Reserve Bank of India Act, Representation of People Act, Income Tax Act, Companies Act and Foreign Contribution Regulation Act. These amendments were passed as a money bill and hence the assent of Rajya Sabha, where the Bharatiya Janata Party does not have a majority, was not required.
Saurav Das, a member of National Campaign for People’s Right to Information, had filed the RTI query, Huffpost India said. The late Arun Jaitley was the Union law minister in 2018. The documents show that the corporate affairs ministry, also under Jaitley, sought advice on the legality of passing the scheme as a money bill. The law ministry concluded that “in strict sense it may not be considered as money bill”, but approved it anyway.
The Ministry of Law and Justice and the Ministry of Corporate Affairs did not respond to queries by the news website.
On January 20, the Supreme Court refused to stay the electoral bonds scheme ahead of the Delhi Assembly elections, scheduled for February 8. The bench of Chief Justice of India SA Bobde and Justices BR Gavai and Surya Kant said the matter will be heard again in two weeks.
The top court was hearing a clutch of pleas on the matter, filed by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and non-government organisation Association for Democratic Reforms. The ADR had earlier challenged the electoral bond scheme, but had now sought an immediate stay on its implementation ahead of the Delhi polls, in light of more revelations by recent media reports.
The top court sought a response from the Centre and the Election Commission on the pleas.