Declining to stay for now the electoral bond scheme, the Supreme Court Friday directed political parties which have received donations via electoral bonds to “forthwith” submit details of the bonds received till date to the Election Commission of India.
Observing that “such weighty issues would require an indepth hearing” given the “competing claims”, the bench of Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi and Justices Deepak Gupta and Sanjiv Khanna directed that bonds received till May 15 “will be submitted on or before 30th May, 2019” in sealed covers which “will remain in the custody of the Election Commission of India and will abide by such orders as may be passed by the Court” which will hear the matter on an “appropriate” day.
The bench ordered political parties to furnish to the Commission “detailed particulars of the donors as against each bond; the amount of each such bond and the full particulars of the credit received against each bond, namely, the particulars of the bank account to which the amount has been credited and the date of each such credit”.
The “interim direction” came a day after Attorney General K K Venugopal, making submissions before the bench, said “transparency cannot be the mantra” and “my opinion is voters have the right to know about their candidates… why should they know where the money of political parties is coming from”.
Petitions had been filed by CPM and NGO Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) challenging the electoral bond scheme.
The bench which went into submissions of the petitioners, Election Commission and the government said “all that we would like to state for the present is that the rival contentions give rise to weighty issues which have a tremendous bearing on the sanctity of the electoral process in the country. Such weighty issues would require an indepth hearing which cannot be concluded and the issues answered within the limited time that is available before the process of funding through the Electoral Bonds comes to a closure, as per the schedule” set out in the scheme.
The bench said it “therefore, has to ensure that any interim arrangement that may be made would not tilt the balance in favour of either of the parties but that the same ensures adequate safeguards against the competing claims of the parties which are yet to be adjudicated”.
It noted that the schedule of availability of the bonds as per a Fiance Ministry note of February 28 was 55 days, which was five days in excess of what could be allowed and ordered the deletion of these five days.
The petitioners have contended that the amendments affect transparency in political funding as it allows political parties not to disclose donor details in their annual contribution reports to the Election Commission. This in turn, they said, affected the citizen’s right to know about contributions made to political parties and the source of such contribution.
The Election Commission took the stand that it was “not opposed” to the scheme, but was only concerned about the anonymity brought in by it. It backed the demand of the petitioners that the State Bank of India, which is the only bank authorised to issue the bonds, publish details of those who bought the bonds and who they were given to.
The Election Commission has told the Supreme Court that the BJP received Rs 210 crore donations through electoral bonds in 2017-18. This is what its note said:
* BJP: In 2016-17, out of total contribution of Rs 997 crore, Rs 529 crore was declared in the Contribution Report. The balance Rs 468 crores could be presumed to be small cash contributions. In 2017-18, out of Rs 990 crore, the Contribution Report reflected Rs 438 crore. Of the balance Rs 552 crore, Rs 210 crore was through electoral bonds.
* Congress: There was an increase of anonymous cash donations from 77 per cent to 84 per cent. Congress got Rs 160 crore in 2016-17. Rs 42 crore was shown in the Contribution Report, indicating that Rs 138 crore was anonymous cash donation. In 2017-18, Congress received Rs 168 crore. Rs 26.5 crore was shown in Contribution Report, indicating that Rs 141.5 crore was anonymous cash donation.