By LE Desk

New Delhi, March 18: The Supreme Court on Thursday agreed to hear next week a plea to stop fresh sale of electoral bonds from April 1 till the top court decides on the validity of these bonds.

A bench, headed by Chief Justice of India SA Bobde, fixed Wednesday next week to hear a new application by the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), which has requested the court to put a restraint on sale of these bonds ahead of the assembly elections in four states and a Union Territory, the Hindustan Times reported.

Advocate Prashant Bhushan, representing the ADR, mentioned the matter before the bench, which also included justices AS Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian, for an urgent listing of the case.

Solicitor general (S-G) Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Central government, informed the bench that attorney general KK Venugopal appeared in this case on behalf of the government and that they had no objection to the plea being heard next week.

“In a matter like this, we are sure you will find some time,” the CJI told the S-G, fixing the matter for a hearing on March 24.

The new application has been moved in a pending petition on this issue by the same organisation.

The plea has stated: “There is a serious apprehension that any further sale of electoral bonds before the upcoming state elections in West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Assam, would further increase illegal and illicit funding of political parties through shell companies. Thus, the petitioner seeks a direction that no further opening of window for the sale of electoral bonds be allowed during the pendency of the instant writ petition.”

The petitioner pointed out that the petition challenging electoral bonds has been pending in the Supreme Court since September 2017. The matter was last heard on January 20 last year following which ADR had requested the court in October last year to list the matter ahead of the assembly elections in Bihar. However, the matter was not listed.

In its PIL, the ADR had sought that the amendments carried out to the Finance Act — that were passed as Money Bills which provided an anonymous route for political parties to receive corporate funding through electoral bonds — be struck down. This lack of transparency in the accounts of all political parties was cited as the ground by ADR to oppose this scheme. These donations enjoy 100% tax exemption as they need not be reported to the Income Tax department either, the petition added.

“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 on the Indian democracy,” the application filed by ADR stated, adding that the Finance Act of 2017 exempts use of electoral bonds from disclosure under the Representation of Peoples Act.

The ADR moved applications in March 2019 and again in November 2019 to stay the implementation of the Electoral Bond Scheme but the same was not granted. In April 2019, the Supreme Court, in an interim order, asked political parties to disclose to the Election Commission in sealed covers details of donations received by way of electoral bonds.

In the same order, the top court had observed that the matter of electoral bonds gives rise to “weighty issues which have a tremendous bearing on the sanctity of the electoral process in the country” which require an in-depth hearing.

The fresh application filed on March 9 went on to say: “As per data on Electoral Bonds declared by political parties in their audit reports for the FY 2017-18 and FY 2018-19, the ruling party had received more than 60% of the total electoral bonds issued till date.”

So far more than ₹6,500 crore worth of electoral bonds have been sold with the majority of donations going to the ruling party, the ADR claimed.

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