The Supreme Court on Wednesday witnessed the Centre and the Election Commission (EC) taking contrary stands regarding the issue of electoral bonds. While the government said it wants to maintain the anonymity of the donors of the bonds, the poll watchdog batted for revealing the names of donors for transparency, though it was not averse to the scheme.
Explaining its stance, the Centre told a bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi that the electoral bond scheme was meant to “eradicate black money in political funding” and the anonymity of donors is to be maintained for various reasons such as fear of repercussions on a firm if the other political party or group wins.
“We have no policy of state funding of elections. Funds are received from supporters, affluent persons and companies. They all want their political party to win. If their party does not win then they apprehend some repercussions and hence secrecy or anonymity is required,” Attorney General K K Venugopal told the bench, which also comprised Justices Deepak Gupta and Sanjiv Khanna.
On the contrary, the EC, represented by senior lawyer Rakesh Dwivedi, opposed Centre’s submissions and said secrecy allowed in the electoral bonds scheme “legalises anonymity”. “Anonymity must go. We want transparency. We want reforms. We cannot go one step forward and two steps backwards. We want free and fair polls,” Dwivedi said, adding that the poll panel was not against the scheme as such, rather it was opposed to “anonymity attached to it”.
The poll watchdog further said the right to vote means making an informed choice and knowing the candidate was only “half of the exercise” and citizens should must know the parties which are funding the candidates.
The apex court was hearing the plea of NGO, Association of Democratic Reforms (ADR)’, which has sought interim reliefs that either the issuance of electoral bonds be stayed or the names of the donors be made public in order to ensure transparency in the poll process.
The government amended various laws including the Income Tax Act, the Representation of Peoples Act, the Finance Act and the Companies Act and came out with the scheme for electoral bonds, which are in the nature of bearer instruments capable of being purchased by a citizen or a company from a PSU bank.
Appearing for the NGO, lawyer Prashant Bhushan had referred to the alleged deficiencies in the electoral bonds scheme and said that it was a “retrograde” step as it was against the concept of free and transparent elections. He said electoral bonds may be the “kick backs” to the ruling political parties and referred to the replies of the poll panel underlining that the changes made in the law will have serious repercussions on the transparent funding of political parties.
The bench would resume the hearing on the plea on Thursday.
Earlier, the apex court had refused to grant interim stay on the electoral bonds scheme of the central government on funding to political parties and asked the petitioner NGO to file an appropriate application for it. ADR’s application has sought stay on the Electoral Bond Scheme, 2018, which was notified by the Centre in January last year.
With PTI inputs
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