New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Friday ordered all political parties to disclose to the Election Commission of India the details of every donation they receive through electoral bonds till 15 May.
The court, passing an interim order because of shortage of time, refused a stay on the controversial anonymous bond scheme that had been sought by the not-for-profit Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR).
The apex court told political parties to furnish all details of all donations they receive, including amounts, names, and bank details of the donors, in a sealed envelope to the poll panel by 31 May.
The top court also directed the finance ministry to remove the extra five days of bond issuance introduced by the government for the months of April and May. The law allows only a 50-day spread in January, April, July, and October, during which the bonds can be bought.
“The order does not tilt towards any party but adequate safeguards are necessary," said Chief Justice Rajan Gogoi. The bench, also comprising justices Deepak Gupta and Sanjiv Khanna, observed in its order that both the parties to the dispute, ADR and the government, have raised arguments on weighty issues that had tremendous bearing on the sanctity of the electoral process.
The government had notified the electoral bond scheme on 2 January last year. These bonds can be purchased by any Indian citizen or corporate entity from the State bank of India.
However, the anonymity provided to the donor and the recipient political party raised concerns among campaigners over transparency in funding.
Critics of the scheme have contended that as the donor’s name is not known, any shell company can make donations and the source from where the money is coming would be difficult to trace.
Attorney general K.K. Venugopal submitted before the court that a know-your-customer or KYC procedure is carried out before the bonds are issued. However, the Supreme Court bench observed on Thursday that KYC just verified the donor, not the source of money.
The Election Commission had stated that it will support the electoral bond scheme only if the donor’s name is revealed.
The petition seeking a stay on the electoral bonds was filed by ADR through lawyer and activist Prashant Bhushan, who also informed the court that the government made amendments in different statutes to smoothen the implementation of the scheme.
The provisions of the Representation of People Act, the Income Tax Act, the Companies Act and the Reserve Bank of India Act had been amended under the Finance Act, 2017 and Finance Act, 2016 to accommodate the scheme’s objective of keeping the donors identity and details of the political parties receiving the electoral bond anonymous.
The amendments create no obligations on the political party to disclose the amount received through electoral bonds to either the poll panel or the income tax department.
ADR wants the court to look into these amendments.
The court could not go into the matter of amendments because of the lack of time, Chief Justice Gogoi said on Friday. Hence, the court was passing an interim order for now.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress welcomed the court order saying it will help check the use of black money in politics and elections.
“We will abide by the directions of the Supreme Court. The BJP has always believed that the use of black money should end in politics and the election process. We will answer all the questions of the Supreme Court," said Anil Baluni, national spokesperson of the BJP.
“The Supreme Court has now said that whatever has been given till now, you will give the names in a sealed cover. Let me predict, between now and May these donations will dry up," Congress spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi said.
“SC orders that parties receiving anonymous Electoral Bonds will have to disclose donor details to EC. 95% of the 3KCr plus bonds (Rs3,000 crore worth of bonds) have gone to BJP. Will the BJP disclose donors or will it say that people slipped these bonds under door of BJP office! Will the quid pro quo be known?" Prashant Bhushan tweeted.
Gyan Varma and Anuja contributed to the story.