Prashant Bhushan alleged that 95% electoral bonds sold so far to the tune of Rs 2,000 crore have been in favour of the BJP.
New Delhi: With advocate Prashant Bhushan alleging that 95 per cent the electoral bonds sold so far to the tune of Rs 2,000 crore have been in favour of BJP in the form of kickbacks before the elections, the Supreme Court on Friday agreed to hear on April 10 his plea for stay on issue of such bonds.
A three-judge bench of CJI Ranjan Gogoi and Justices Deepak Gupta and Sanjiv Khanna directed that the petitions filed by Association for Democratic Reforms, Co-mmon Cause and the CPI(M) challenging the electoral bond scheme for donations to political parties be listed for final hearing on April 10. When Mr Bhushan pressed for stay on issue of such bonds, the CJI said it will be taken up on April 10 and asked him to file a proper application in this regard.
Mr Bhushan pointed out to the court that 95 per cent of electoral bonds sold so far to the tune of Rs 2,000 crore have been in favour of one political party (BJP) that is the ruling party, which is definitely in the form of kickbacks before the elections. He also stated that most of the bonds that have been purchased since 2018 have been of the denominations of Rs 10 lakh and Rs 1 crore indicating that it is not common citizens but corporates that have been purchasing these bonds while enjoying complete anonymity accorded by the electoral bond scheme.
Attorney general K.K. Venugopal strongly opposed Mr Bhushan’s submissions and said, “He is making an election speech”, to which the Chief Justice quipped, “It is election time”. The AG called out the counsel for the petitioner for apparently representing the interests of his political affiliation. “He is doing it for his party...Congress,” said the AG. The petitioners stated that these bonds are being made available for a large number of days in three months leading to general elections.
It is expected that political parties would receive enormous amount of corporate funding in April and May and this would play a critical role in the elections.
Mr Bhushan pointed out that only the total amount of donations to political parties has to be disclosed without the name of the political party. Further with the removal of the 7.5 per cent cap on the net profits of the last three years of a company, now corporate funding has increased manifold, as there is no limit to how much a company can donate.
Even loss-making companies now qualify to make donations of any amount to political parties out of their capital or reserves. Further, it opens up the possibility of companies being brought into existence by unscrupulous elements primarily for routing funds to political parties through anonymous and opaque instruments like electoral bonds.
This has increased the opacity of funding of political parties, and the danger of quid pro quo and opacity of any benefits are passed on to such companies or their group companies by the elected government. This has a major negative implication on transparency in political funding and is in violation of citizens’ right to information, which is a fundamental right, Mr. Bhushan argued.
The Election Commission of India in its response told the Court that the ‘Electoral Bonds Scheme’ has a serious impact on transparency in political funding. The ECI said that it had expressed concerns way back in May 2017 itself, immediately after the passage of the Finance Act 2017, which had brought in the crucial legislative amendments for laying the foundation for the scheme.
The Centre, however, said that the scheme of electoral bonds will in fact “promote transparency in funding and donation received by political parties” and sought dismissal of the petitions.