Electoral Bonds Case : Apex Court Unanimously Strikes Down Electoral Bonds Scheme Terms It Unconstitutional.

(Judicial Quest News Network)

The Apex Court of India on Thursday struk down unanimiousely electoral bond scheme deemint it as unconstitutional which violates human rights. It says that the information is essential for the right to vote.

The Sc court emphasised that voters have the right to essential information necessary for casting their votes, and political parties play a crucial role in the electoral process.

A five-judges constitutional bench headed by CJI DY Chandrachud and Justices Sanjive Khanna,BR Gavai, JB Pardivala and Manoj Misra.

Introduction of the Scheme of Electoral Bond was launched in January 2018

The Government had notified the scheme of Electoral Bonds to cleanse the system of political funding in the country. The broad features of the scheme are given below:

1. Electoral Bond would be a bearer instrument in the nature of a

Promissory Note and an interest free banking instrument. A citizen of India or a body incorporated in India will be eligible to purchase the bond.

2. Electoral bond would be issued/purchased for any value, inmultiples of `1,000, `10,000, `1, 00,000, `10, 00,000 and `1, 00, 00,000 from the specified branches of the State Bank of India (SBI).

3. The purchaser would be allowed to buy electoral bond(s) only on due fulfilment of all the extant KYC norms and by making payment from a bank account. It will not carry the name of payee. Electoral Bonds would have a life of only 15 days during which it can be used for making donation only to the political parties registered under section 29A of the Representation of the Peoples Act, 1951 (43 of 1951) and which secured not less than one per cent of the votes polled in the last general election to the House of the People or a Legislative Assembly.

4. The bonds under the Scheme shall be available for purchase for a period of 10 days each in the months of January, April, July and October, as may be specified by the Central Government. An additional period of 30 days shall be specified by the Central Government in the year of the General election to the House of People.

5. The bond shall be encashed by an eligible political party only through a designated bank account with the authorised bank.

Soon after it was implemented, multiple parties challenged the electoral bond scheme in court. These included CPM, Congress Leader Jaya Thakur and non-profit Association of Democratic Reforms. They argued that the confidentiality clause in the scheme came in the way of the citizen’s righ to information.

Senior Advocate  Prashanth Bhushan appearing for ADR said the bonds promote corruption as they are opaque and anonymous.”The bonds do not allow a level playing field between political parties which are reuling versus political parties which are in the opposition or between political partiesand independent candidates.He also said that eversince this scheme was introduce, contributions made through this donation method has exceeded all other modes.

Advocates Kapil Sibal, Prashant BHushan, Shadan Firasath, Nizam Pasha and Vijay Hansaria appeared for the petitioners.

Senior Advocate Kapil Sibal pointed out that there is no cap on the amount of money that can be donated to political parties.

Advcoate Shadan Farasath, appearing for ther CPM said the left party has not accepted a single rupee through bonds .He argued that the 2018 scheme fails to pass the test of arbitrariness of Article 14 because the scheme takes away non-anonymous money.

Solicito General of India Tushar Mehta while defending the scheme said it was a deliberate attempt to ensure that funding received by political parties was clean money.He said disclosing the dodnors identity could disincentivisethe whole process. “Suppose as a contractor, I donate to the Congress party.I do not the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) to know because it might form a government”, he said.When the court asked how this confidentiality can be reconciled with the voter’s right to information, Mr. Mehtahad replied that voters do not vote on the basis of who is funding which party but on ideology, principles, leadership and efficiency of a party.

Attorney General of India R.Venkatramani had strongly countered the right to information argument and said that “there can be no general right to know anything and everything without being subjected to reasonable restrictions”Secondly the right to knowas necessary for specific endsor purposese and not otherwise,” he said.

According to Election Commission of Indiadata, the BJP received more than half of all electoral bonds between 2018 and 2022.According to disclosures by political parties , BJP received Rs. 5,270 crore out of a total of Rs.9,208 crore-57 per cent of total electoral bonds sold.The main opposition Congress was a distant second , receiving Rs. 964 crore or 10% West Bengals ruling Trinamol Congress got Rs. 767 crore in bonds 8 % of all bonds bought.

The bench stated that the Election Commission of India shall publish the details of electoral bond purchase on its website by March 13, 2024.

The CJI DY Chandrachud delivered the lead judgement.

Justice Khanna has penned a concurring opinion with a slightly different perceptive. Both judgement answered two questions, namely, first whether the non-discloure of information on voluntary contributions to political parties according to the electoral bond scheme and the ammendments to Section 29C of Representation of thre People Act, ,Section 183 (3) of the Companies Act , Secion 13A (b) of the Income tax Act are violative of the right to information under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution, and Secondwhether unlimited corporate funding to political parties as envisaged by the ammendement to Section 182(1)of the Companies Act violates the principles  of the free and fair elections.

The Court ordered that the issuing bank of electoral bonds, that is the State Bank of India (SBI) should issue details of the political parties which received electoral bonds and all the particulars received and submit them to Election Commission of India (ECI) BY March 6.

By March 13, the ECI shall publish such details on its official website.

Politicla parties are also directed to return the electoral bonds which have not been encashed and the issuing bank should then refund the amountto the donor’s account, the Court order.

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