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Electoral Bonds: Tell Election Commission who funds you, Supreme Court to parties

FE Bureau

The Supreme Court on Friday directed parties to furnish by May 30 all the details of funds received by them via electoral bonds, including the donors identity, to the Election Commission of India (ECI) in a sealed cover, in a move that could bring in more transparency to the government s political funding scheme. A Bench led by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi while refusing to stay the electoral bonds scheme said that the ECI will keep the record of the money received by parties through this instrument.

Besides, the apex court also directed the finance ministry to reduce the window of purchasing electoral bonds from 10 days to five days in April-May. It directed the ministry to tweak the window period for purchasing the electoral bonds and reduce it from present 55 days to 50 days in 2019.

The court further said that it would give in-depth hearing on the weighty issues raised by the petitioners, which have tremendous bearing on the sanctity of the electoral process in the country .

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SBI had sold electoral bonds worth Rs 1,057 crore between March and November 2018 and this sale has jumped to Rs 1,716 crore between January and March this year, revealed an RTI response sought by a Pune-based activist. Separately, according to the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), BJP has received an overwhelmingly large share of the bonds.

Of the Rs 215 crore generated through the banking instruments in 2017-18, the ruling party secured Rs 210 crore and the Congress just Rs 5 crore, the ADR report shows.

The bonds don t name the donor or the political party he is donating to, but these can be bought only through bank accounts after meeting all the KYC norms. The validity period of the bonds is restricted to just 15 days to ensure they do not become a parallel currency.

The total period…allowable for the month of January (10 days), April (10 days) and 30 days for the election year would be 50 (for purchasing the bonds) whereas the schedule contemplates issuance of bonds for a total period of 55 days that it 45 days plus 10 days of January. A period of 5 days, therefore, have to be deleted from the schedule contained in the Note of the Ministry of Finance of February 28, the court noted in an 19-page interim order.

According to us, the just and proper interim direction would be to require all the political parties who have received donations through Electoral Bonds to submit to the Election Commission of India in sealed cover, detailed particulars of the donors as against each bond; the amount of each such bond and the full particulars of the credit received against each bond, namely, the particulars of the bank account to which the amount has been credited and the date of each such credit, it said.

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It said that the scheme has been brought after amending various laws like the Finance Act, the Reserve Bank Of India Act, the Representation of the People Act, the Income Tax Act and the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act and it needed detailed examination. The court, therefore, has to ensure that any interim arrangement that may be made would not tilt the balance in favour of either of the parties but that the same ensures adequate safeguards against the competing claims of the parties which are yet to be adjudicated, the CJI said.

The interim order came on petitions by the CPI(M) and Association of Democratic Reforms (ADR), an NGO, challenging the validity of electoral bonds, which allegedly allows anonymous donations to political parties. The government on Thursday had told the court that it is not necessary for voters to know the identity of contributors.

Attorney General K K Venugopal had pleaded that anonymity of donors of electoral bonds is to be maintained for various reasons such as fear of repercussions on a firm or an individual if the other political party or group wins.

However, the EC had argued that it was for transparency in political funding.