SC to hear pleas challenging electoral bond scheme on October 31

 The Supreme Court on Tuesday fixed October 31 for final hearing on pleas challenging the validity of the electoral bond scheme for political funding of parties.

A bench comprising Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud and justices J B Pardiwala and Manoj Misra took note of the submissions of lawyer Prashant Bhushan that the matter needed adjudication before the electoral bond scheme opens for the 2024 general elections.

The anonymous funding through electoral bonds raises corruption and violates the citizens’ right to have a corruption-free nation, Bhushan, appearing for NGO Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), said.

“This promotes corruption as the source of funding is anonymous, it is violative of Article 21 and the ‘non-decision’ in the case compounding the problem,” he submitted.

“We are here and hearing this now,” the bench said. After hearing some preliminary submissions on the electoral bond scheme, the bench kept as many as four petitions for final hearing on October 31 and said it may continue hearing them on November 1 if the proceedings spill over.

Earlier, the top court had said it may consider whether the pleas challenging the validity of the electoral bond scheme for political funding of parties can be referred to a constitutional bench for an “authoritative pronouncement”.

One of the PIL petitioners had said in March that so far Rs 12,000 crore has been paid to political parties through electoral bonds and the two-third of the amount has gone to one major political party.

The bench had appointed two lawyers, including Neha Rathi, as nodal counsel for ensuring smooth hearing of the PILs, saying they would coordinate to ensure that common compilation of judgements and other records are filed.

Prior to this, the top court on January 31 had said the three sets of petitions on the electoral bonds scheme, bringing political parties within the ambit of the Right to Information Act and those challenging amendments in the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act will be heard separately.

The court had said it will hear in the third week of March the pleas challenging the laws permitting funding of political parties through the electoral bond scheme.

Electoral bonds have been pitched as an alternative to cash donations made to political parties as part of efforts to bring in transparency in political funding.

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Lawyer Bhushan has been seeking urgent listing of the PIL by the apex court and a direction to the Centre not to open any further window for the sale of electoral bonds during the pendency of a case pertaining to funding of political parties and alleged lack of transparency in their bank accounts.

The NGO, which had filed the PIL on the issue of alleged corruption and subversion of democracy through illicit and foreign funding of political parties and lack of transparency in the bank accounts of all political parties, had moved an interim application in March 2021 before the assembly polls in West Bengal and Assam seeking the sale of electoral bonds should not be reopened.

On January 20, 2020, the apex court had refused to grant interim stay on the 2018 Electoral Bonds Scheme and sought responses of the Centre and the Election Commission to an interim application by the NGO seeking a stay on the scheme.

The government notified the Electoral Bond Scheme on January 2, 2018.

According to the provisions of the scheme, electoral bonds may be purchased by a person who is a citizen of India or incorporated or established in India. An individual can buy electoral bonds, either singly or jointly with other individuals.

Only political parties registered under Section 29A of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 and which secured not less than one per cent of votes polled in the last general election to Lok Sabha or the Legislative Assembly of the state are eligible to receive electoral bonds.

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