Updated: March 26, 2021 2:17:51 pm
The Supreme Court on Friday dismissed a plea seeking stay on further sale of electoral bonds ahead of assembly elections in West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Assam and the Union Territory of Puducherry starting March 27.
A bench headed by Chief Justice S A Bobde declined to stay sale of the electoral bonds as sought in the application moved by the NGO, Association for Democratic Reforms.
Last week, the Supreme Court had agreed to hear on March 24 a plea seeking a direction to the Central government and others to not open any further window for sale of electoral bonds during the pendency of a PIL filed by the NGO pertaining to funding of political parties and alleged lack of transparency.
The NGO had claimed that there is a serious apprehension that any further sale of electoral bonds before the upcoming assembly elections, including in West Bengal and Assam, would further “increase illegal and illicit funding of political parties through shell companies”.
The Centre had earlier told the bench, also comprising Justices A S Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian, that the bonds would be issued from April 1 to April 10.
Lawyer Prashant Bhushan, appearing for NGO Association for Democratic Reforms, had on March 18 said that for the last two years, the PIL has not been listed for hearing.
Arguing that the case needed an urgent hearing, the lawyer told the top court that the Reserve Bank of India and the Election Commission have said illicit monies are being transacted which is also detrimental to the economy, while adding that on April 1, the bonds will be issued.
On January 20 last year, the apex court had refused to grant interim stay on the 2018 Electoral Bonds Scheme and sought responses of the Centre and the Election Commission on an interim application by the NGO seeking stay on the scheme.
Electoral bonds, announced in the 2017 Union Budget, are interest-free bearer instruments used to donate money anonymously to political parties. A bearer instrument does not carry any information about the buyer or payee and the holder of the instrument (which is the political party) is presumed to be its owner.
The bonds are sold in multiples of Rs 1,000, Rs 10,000, Rs 1 lakh, Rs 10 lakh, and Rs 1 crore, and the State Bank of India (SBI) is the only bank authorised to sell them.
Meanwhile, the government has shelled out Rs 4.10 crore to the State Bank of India (SBI) as commission for the sale of electoral bonds over 13 phases to donors of political parties. This is in addition to the Rs 1.86 crore spent on printing these bonds.
In a reply to an RTI application filed by Lokesh Batra, the SBI said the total commission payable by the government to the bank, for 15 phases of bond sales, amounts to Rs 4.35 crore. While Rs 4.10 crore of this has been paid, “Commission for 14th and 15th phases… has not been paid till date.”
With PTI inputs