AA Edit | Only probe can establish facts of murky poll bond sales

Supreme Court strikes down electoral bond scheme, revealing potential violations, sparking calls for court-monitored investigation.

The Supreme Court of India struck down the electoral bond scheme finding it violative of the citizen’s fundamental right to information under Article 19 of the Constitution. The information that has reached the public domain after the State Bank of India, which executed the scheme, handed it over to the Election Commission of India on the orders of the court would indicate that the scheme not only facilitated violation of an enabling provision of the Constitution but also criminal and anti-corruption laws on governance in this country.

It was legally mandated that no information on the donors and the recipients of the bonds be kept by the bank but the information the SBI has passed on to the ECI indicates that there is documentation of their details. This gives the lie to the basic argument of the proponents of the scheme that it was designed in such a way to offer total anonymity, so that it would enable corporates to fund elections without fearing reprisals from the government in power. It now transpires that the bank had indeed held on to the information, and it is common knowledge that the government of the day can get access to such information.

There are allegations of quid pro quo in the purchase and donation of the bonds. Reports of the links between companies buying the bonds and getting huge government contracts have already appeared. Interestingly, they are not limited to one party or government. There are also reports of companies in certain sectors of the economy buying them as a cartel to propitiate the powers that be. The possibility of them either getting favours or escaping government action cannot be ruled out.

The more serious allegations about the electoral bonds scheme is that it has been used, along with the investigating agencies, by the BJP that runs the Union government as a tool for extortion of money from corporate houses. Reports say a good share of the companies which made most purchase of the bonds, was being investigated by the agencies, including the income tax department, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). It has also been reported that the date of arrest of an industrialist in the Delhi excise policy case, his turning an approver and his being enlarged on bail have all links to the purchase of electoral bonds by the company of which he is a director. It is interesting to note that the Supreme Court, while hearing the bail application of former Delhi deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia, had pointed out that all that the ED, which had arrested Mr Sisodia, had against the accused were statements of approvers and nothing else.

The information that throws light on the possible murky deals behind a scheme which was claimed to be making political funding transparent has come out in the open only after the Supreme Court put it its foot down and ordered the SBI to comply with its order. The information so revealed points to a web of undesirable and even illegal practices that could have a devastating impact on the right to self-determination of the people of this republic. The demand of the Congress, the principal Opposition party, for a court-monitored investigation to see if there is truth in the allegations of quid pro quo and extortion in the operation of the scheme, therefore, has merit in it.

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