The Electoral Bonds Case in the Supreme Court
In the last five years, the political parties in India have received donations worth more than Rs 9,000 crores. Are you entitled to know where those donations came from?
That’s the question which is arising before the Supreme Court of India in the Electoral Bonds case, and it will certainly have a far-reaching impact on the upcoming elections both in the States and the Centre.
There’s a five-judge-bench of the Supreme Court of India that will begin hearing a batch of pleas challenging the validity of the Electoral Bonds (meaning political funding for political parties) scheme in the country. The point to be noted about this case is that it has been pending for 8 years for a hearing, and now there will be one after years, and we are hoping for a final decision on this.
What is an electoral bond?
Electoral Bond is a scheme that was launched in 2018. The aim of the scheme was to clean up the political funding system, and to ensure that all the funding that’s given to political parties is not black money in cash, but white money that’s transacting through the banks. And, because the idea was to introduce transparency and reduce black money, it received the much expected hype during that time.
“One of the petitioners in this case has claimed that Rs12,000 crores have been paid to political parties so far, and two-thirds of that amount has gone to one major political party which is the BJP. Basically, the argument here is – if there’s a large amount of money being given to a political party before an election, can we conclude that that the political party is likely to make decisions once they come into power that favours the person who gave them that donations?”
Now, the case has been brought before the Supreme Court on the accusation that it doesn’t bring in any kind of transparency, rather it makes thing worse.
This is how an electoral bond functions – any citizen or any company in India can go to a bank, buy a bond, and transfer the money to the bank. And in the name of a political party, the party can cash that bond and take the money from the bank on the other side.
The question has been about – whether or not the information regarding who is making those donations should be available in the public domain to the citizens! As it’s already mentioned, anybody can buy electoral bonds, the money can be transferred from anywhere as long as it is via a company that’s registered in India. Any party that is registered as a political party can receive that amount of money.
What are the problems with electoral bonds?
Electoral Bonds do not record the details of the transaction despite the KYC period of the buying period. The information is kept confidential by the bank. According to The Quint’s report, the only exception can be made by the demand of a court of law or an enforcement agency.
One of the petitioners in this case has claimed that Rs12,000 crores have been paid to political parties so far, and two-thirds of that amount has gone to one major political party which is the BJP. Basically, the argument here is – if there’s a large amount of money being given to a political party before an election, can we conclude that that the political party is likely to make decisions once they come into power that favours the person who gave them that donations?
Now, this is how politics works around the world.
However, in many places around the world, the information about donations is made public. So, for example, as a citizen, before you vote for some political party, you can legitimately check for information to find out where the money has come from, and are they likely to decide in the favour of this company in the future.
But, in India, we don’t have that facility because that information is not made accessible to us. So, we are unware which individual or company has made donations to this political party, and as a result, completely oblivious to where they are likely to be leaning in the future to make those decisions once they come into power.
Now, let’s learn about the kind of money that is actually at play here! According to the Association of Democratic Reforms (one of the petitioners in this case), the BJP received Rs 5,270 crores out of a total of Rs 9,208 crores or 57% of all total electoral bonds sold till 2022. The Congress received Rs 952 crores, and then the rest went to the other parties.
There’s also a story that says, the State Bank of India has reportedly sold a total of Rs 1,148 crore worth of bonds in October alone, before the big election that’s coming up in the next two months in the state governments. In fact, the highest amount of those sales were made in the Hyderabad branch, according to a report in The Indian Express.
Prashant Bhushan, one of the Advocates appearing in this case has said that he is glad that the court has finally fixed a hearing, and he believes that the Electoral Bonds case goes to the very root of our democracy, which is why it has to be decided immediately.
The Attorney General of India spoke to The Supreme Court and said that as per the decision of the government of India, the citizens are not entitled to this information under the Right to Information Act under article 19 1a of the Constitution regarding the source of funds.
Hearings in the Supreme Court have begun, and it’s going to be a very interesting debate – to find out that there are a lot of money flowing in whether you as a citizen are entitled to that money or not – that’s what we are going to be watching in the Supreme Court to find out.
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