Supreme Court directs political parties to furnish receipts of electoral bonds and donors’ identity details to EC

The Supreme Court Friday directed all political parties to furnish receipts of political funding received through electoral bonds and details of identity of donors in a sealed cover to the Election Commission.

In an interim order, the apex court also directed all political parties to provide details of the amount of the bond and bank account of donors by May 30 to the poll panel.

The apex court said it would examine in detail changes made in Income Tax law, electoral law and banking laws to make them in consonance with the electoral bond scheme and ensure balance does not tilt in favour of any political party.

It also directed the Finance Ministry to reduce the window of purchasing electoral bonds from 10 days to five days in April-May and said it would fix a date later for final disposal of the petition filed by an NGO.

The NGO has challenged the validity of the scheme and sought that either the issuance of electoral bonds be stayed or names of donors be made public to ensure transparency in the poll process.

The order was pronounced by a bench comprising Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justices Deepak Gupta and Sanjiv Khanna.

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

As per provisions of the scheme, electoral bonds may be purchased by a person, who is a citizen of India or incorporated or established in India.

A person being 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 the House of the People or the Legislative Assembly of the State, shall be eligible to receive electoral bonds.

As per the notification, electoral bonds shall be encashed by an eligible political party only through a bank account with an authorised bank.

The Centre and the Election Commission had taken contrary stands in the Supreme Court on Wednesday over political funding with the government wanting to maintain anonymity of donors of electoral bonds and the poll panel batting for revealing names of donors for transparency.

The bench on Thursday had reserved the order, saying if the identity of the purchasers of electoral bonds meant for transparent political funding was not known, then efforts of the government to curtail black money in elections would be “futile”.

The Centre, through Attorney General K K Venugopal, had vehemently supported the scheme saying the purpose behind it is to eliminate the use of black money in elections and asked the court not to interfere with it at this stage and examine whether it has worked or not only after the elections.

However, advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing for Association of Democratic Reforms (ADR)’, had said the scheme has nothing to do with the effort to curb black money and it opens the banking means also to donate by remaining anonymous.

During in an earlier hearing, Bhushan had claimed that the party in power was the major beneficiary of the scheme.

The EC, represented by senior lawyer Rakesh Dwivedi, had opposed Centre’s submissions and said secrecy allowed in the electoral bonds scheme “legalises anonymity”.

The bench had also observed, “If the identity of purchasers of bonds is not known then there will be greater ramification on the Income Tax law and all your (government’s) efforts to curtail black money will be futile”.

Venugopal had also said the 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.

The Attorney General had also said: “Historically, black money is used in elections. This is a reformatory steps. The scheme can be examined after the elections.”

In its affidavit, the Centre had said electoral bonds “attempt at bringing greater transparency, ensuring KYC compliance and keeping an audit trail in comparison to the earlier opaque system of cash donations.

Activists oppose amendments to RTI Act

rtiaCivil society activists are gearing up for an offensive against the government’s proposed legislation to exclude political parties from the ambit of the RTI Act. Besides petitions to parliamentarians, the PM and the President urging them not to support the amendments, activists plan to hold protest demonstrations and even challenge the legislation in court as a last resort.

The Union Cabinet on Thursday cleared two amendments to the transparency Act to counter the Central Information Commission (CIC) June 3 order that the six national political parties ” Congress, BJP, BSP, NCP, CPI and CPM ” were public authorities. The bill is likely to be brought in the monsoon session of Parliament starting on Monday.

Despite a series of petitions to MPs and PM Manmohan Singh signed by eminent citizens including Aruna Roy, Shailesh Gandhi, Shekhar Singh and others, the government is fairly confident of smooth passage of the RTI bill.

Activists plan to challenge the proposed legislation on the grounds that it is against the constitutional right to freedom of speech. There has been a precedent earlier when the Supreme Court struck down an amendment to the Representation of People’s Act in 2002 and directed candidates to submit their financial details and criminal antecedents before the Election Commission of India. SC said the amendment was in violation of the constitutional right to freedom of speech.

Association of Democratic Reforms (ADR) co-founder Prof Jagdeep Chhokar said, “We hope RTI Act is not passed and wise counsel prevails on the lawmakers. In the unfortunate event that it is passed by Parliament, it will be challenged in court of law. The exact nature of which will depend on the specific wording of the amendments.”

Activists said there was a clear case of conflict of interest with MPs seeking to exclude themselves from the transparency Act.

The National Campaign for People’s Right to Information (NCPRI) plans a protest demonstration on August 6 at Jantar Mantar to voice their concern against the government’s decision.

RTI activist S C Agrawal said if political parties were trying to escape scrutiny of the RTI Act, they should also return land and accommodation allotted by the central and state governments at subsidized costs and tax concessions to political parties must be abolished.

(Source: IANS)