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Electoral bonds: Supreme Court must hear case quickly

Bonds have legalised anonymous donations to parties
Last Updated : 30 December 2021, 22:53 IST
Last Updated : 30 December 2021, 22:53 IST

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A number of eminent citizens, including former bureaucrats, lawyers and academics, recently wrote to Chief Justice of India N V Ramana requesting him for early listing and hearing of some important cases that have been pending for a long time before Constitution benches. One of the cases is the petition challenging the issue of electoral bonds, pending for nearly four years. The case was listed recently but was not heard. An early decision on the legality and constitutionality of electoral bonds is vital for the health and integrity of the election system. The electoral bonds scheme, notified in 2018 after controversial amendments were made to multiple laws the previous year, legalised anonymous and unlimited donations to political parties.

Electoral bonds are banking instruments that can be purchased by any citizen or company to make donations to political parties, without the donor’s identity being disclosed. The government has claimed that the scheme would make political donations free of black money, but it is faulty on many grounds, such as lack of transparency, the anonymity of the donors, and bias in favour of the ruling party, for reasons both obvious and not-so-obvious. More than 92% of the donations made so far have been through bonds of Rs 1 crore denomination, and more than 70% of these donations have been to the BJP, which has collected thousands of crores of rupees in this fashion. Voters do not know who made the donations, to which parties and how much, but the government has access to that information. This is a violation of the voters’ right to know whether donations have influenced the government's policies. Money plays an important part in elections. So, it is particularly important for the system of donations to be fair, transparent and right. The Election Commission had expressed its disapproval of electoral bonds, though later it took a different stand on it in the court.

A number of elections have been held since 2018, both at central and state levels, without a decision on electoral bonds. The Supreme Court had refused to stay the sale of the bonds. An urgent application was filed in the court for a stay on the sale that was scheduled in April, ahead of this year’s Assembly elections in some states. A bench headed by the then CJI SA Bobde held that there was no justification for staying the scheme as electoral bonds had been allowed in previous years without any legal impediment! Another round of elections is due soon in some states, and a 10-day window for purchasing electoral bonds will open on January 1. The apex court will hopefully take up the matter and take a decision on the merit and legality of the scheme in time. It should be noted that the court had remarked that “weighty issues which have a tremendous bearing on the sanctity of the electoral process in the country” were involved in the electoral bond scheme.

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Published 30 December 2021, 18:49 IST

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