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.

Even manufacturers can’t manipulate EVMs: EC

The EVMs are robust and tamper- proof and even the manufacturers cannot manipulate them at the time of production, the Election Commission said today, countering allegations that the machines are unreliable.

With the Opposition’s questions on the reliability of the electronic voting machines getting louder, the Commission has come out with a list of ‘frequently asked questions’ to put across its views in public domain.

Recently, the Commission had issued two statements defending the machines. The FAQs are the third attempt by the poll watchdog to counter the doubts on the machines’ reliability.

One of the first questions the FAQ addresses is whether the machine can be hacked?

No, asserts the Commission.

The M1 (model one) of EVM was manufactured till 2006 and had all necessary technical features it “non-hackable contrary to claims made by some activists”, it said.

The M2 model of EVMs produced after 2006 and up to 2012 incorporated additional safety features. It can detect “malicious sequenced key presses”.

“Further, the ECI-EVMs are not computer controlled, are stand alone machines and not connected to the Internet or any other network. Hence, there is no chance of hacking by remote devices… also do not have any frequency receiver or decoder for data for wireless or any external hardware port for connection to any other non-EVM accessory or device. Hence no tampering is possible,” the poll panel said.

The Commission also rejected suggestions that the machines can be manipulated by the manufacturer itself.

“Not possible,” it said. The EVMs have been manufactured in different years since 2006 and sent to different states.

The manufacturers — ECIL and BEL — would not know several years ahead which candidate will contest from a particular constituency and what will be the sequence of the candidates on the ballot unit,” it said.

It also asserted that no ‘trojan horse’ can be injected into the EVM in the field. In fact, the new M3 EVIN produced after 2013 have additional features like tamper detection and self diagnostics.

The tamper detection feature makes an EVM inoperative the moment anyone tries to open the machine. The self diagnostic feature checks the EVM fully every time it is switched on. Any change in its hardware or software will be detected.

It said contrary to “misinformation and as alleged by some”, India does not use any EVMs produced abroad.

The EVMs are produced indigenously and the software programme code is written in-house and not outsourced.

“The programme is converted into machine code and only then given to the chip manufacturer abroad because we don’t have the capability of producing semi-conductor microchips within the country.

“Every microchip has an identification number embedded into memory and the producers have their digital signatures on them. So, the question of their replacement does not arise at all because microchips are subjected to functional tests with regard to the software. Any attempt to replace microchip is detectable and can make EVM in-operative,” it said.

Ruling out the possibility of manipulation of the machines at the place of storage, the Commission said security measures and double checks that such a possibility does not arise.

It said due to different level of stringent checks and balances, neither ‘ECI-EVMs’ can leave the EC system nor any outside machine — non-ECI EVM — can be inducted into the system.

Why have developed nations such as the US and the European Union not adopted EVMs and some have discontinued?

To this, the Commission said the problem faced with the machines in these countries was that they were computer controlled and connected to the network, which in turn, made them prone to hacking.

Moreover, adequate security measures and safeguards in their corresponding laws were not present. Hence the use of EVMs were struck down by their courts.

Source : PTI

Plea against pre-poll freebies promise: Delhi HC seeks Govt,EC reply

Plea against pre-poll freebies promise: Delhi HC seeks Govt,EC reply
Plea against pre-poll freebies promise: Delhi HC seeks Govt,EC reply

The Delhi High Court today sought responses of the Centre and the Election Commission of India (ECI) on a petition seeking to restrain all political parties from making promises of offering freebies to people if they are voted to power.

A bench of Chief Justice G Rohini and Justice Sangita Dhingra Sehgal asked the ECI to explain if its guidelines on election manifesto are in conformity with the Supreme Court’s direction given earlier.

“You (ECI) will have to file your response and inform this court whether the guidelines issued by you are in conformity with the directions given by the Supreme Court,” the bench said.

The court also issued notice to the Centre and asked both the government and ECI to file their response within eight weeks.

The bench has fixed the matter for hearing on May 24.

The high court was hearing a plea by Delhi resident Ashok Sharma who has sought direction to the ECI to restrain all political parties from distributing free goods (freebies) as are being allegedly offered in the upcoming state Assembly elections in the five states, scheduled to be held in February and March.

Assembly polls are to be held in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Goa and Manipur.

The plea, filed through advocate A Maitri, has claimed that the poll panel in its recent guidelines has “nullified” the Supreme Court’s directions, which had directed the ECI to frame guidelines in consultation with all recognised parties.

The apex court in its July 2013 verdict had observed that, “although the law is obvious that promises made in an election manifesto cannot be construed as a ‘corrupt practice’ under section 123 of the Representation of the People Act, the reality is that distribution of freebies of any kind undoubtedly influences all people and it affects level-playing field.

( Source – PTI )

NGT asks MoEF not to act under new notification

NGT asks MoEF not to act under new notification
NGT asks MoEF not to act under new notification

The National Green Tribunal today took the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) to task over its recent notification exempting real estate projects from obtaining prior environmental clearance (EC) and restrained it from granting any fresh permissions under the new regulation.

“You can’t do legal blunders and get away with it,” a bench headed by NGT Chairperson Justice Swatanter Kumar said as it pulled up the MoEF for not “applying its mind” while amending the notification published on December 9, 2016 exempting building and construction projects of all sizes from the process of environment impact assessment (EIA) and prior environmental clearance before beginning construction.

For smaller projects (less than 20,000 sq metres), it even has a “self-declaration” clause, which will ensure issuance of permission from urban local bodies.

For larger projects of more than 20,000 sq m size, the EC and building permission will be given by urban local bodies simultaneously in an “integrated format”.

“Why don’t you (MoEF) do something constructive for the system. There is a way of doing things.

“We don’t understand why do you do these funny things….

“If you wanted to amend the notification, you could have simply said that though the new projects are not required to take EC, but each project when cleared by local authorities would have certain conditions imposed on it.

“You tell your ministry and all others not to act under the new notification, otherwise we will stay the notification.

“You can’t do legal blunders and get away with it,” the bench said while granting liberty to the petitioners to approach NGT if a single permission is granted under the new notification.

The matter is now listed for next hearing on January 12.

The green panel had earlier refused to stay the December 9 notification by MoEF and issued notices to the ministries of Environment and Forests and Urban Development while seeking their reply before January 4, 2017.

The tribunal was hearing a plea filed by Society for Protection of Environment and Biodiversity seeking quashing of the December 9 notification on the grounds that it was in contravention to the provisions of EIA notification, 2006 and Environment Protection Act, 1986.

The plea had alleged that the notification tries to “circumvent” the provisions of the EIA Notification, 2006 in the name of “ease of doing business” for building and construction of areas which are more than 20,000 sqm and less than 150,000 sqm wherein prior EC was required earlier.

The petition said the purpose of including the building and construction projects in the EIA notification is a failure of the urban local bodies and development authorities.

( Source – PTI )

Metro projects do not require prior EC:MoEF to NGT

Metro projects do not require prior EC:MoEF to NGT
Metro projects do not require prior EC:MoEF to NGT

Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) and Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) have informed the National Green Tribunal that Metro Rail projects are not required to seek environmental clearance.

The Environment Ministry told a bench headed by Justice U D Salvi that Railway projects and Metro Rail projects are not within the purview of 2006 Environmental Impact Assessment Notification and therefore prior Environmental Clearance was not required.

“The government of India, Ministry of Urban Development (Metro Rail Cell) vide Office Memorandum dated May 22, 2009 has sent a Cabinet note to the Ministry of Environment and Forest and that the MoEF have vide Office Memorandum dated June 2, 2009 responded to the Cabinet node stating that the Metro projects are not required to seek Environmental Clearance under EIA Notification…

“In view of the above, the construction of the Metro line from Noida to Greater Noida does not require an EC and it is respectfully submitted that the construction is in accordance with the Office Memorandum dated June 2, 2009 issued by the Ministry of Environment and Forest,” an affidavit filed by Delhi Metro Rail Corporation said.

On the issue of extraction of ground water, the DMRC denied that any ground water was being extracted for the construction of the metro project.

An application has been submitted before Central Ground Water Authority (CGWA) for extraction of ground water which is currently pending for consideration, it said.

“It is submitted that DMRC which is executing agency for the Metro project and CEC-SAM India (NC-03) which is joint venture which has been allotted the tender for construction of the line are presently using STP treated water for construction of project which is supplied on regular basis,” DMRC said.

The affidavit was filed in response to a plea filed by environmentalist Vikrant Tongad seeking directions to Noida Metro Rail Corporation (NMRC) to obtain environmental clearance for its project from Noida to Greater Noida after conducting proper Environment Impact Assessment.

Tongad had stated that the metro from Noida to Greater Noida will pass through Hindon and piers would be constructed on the river bed which can significantly harm aquatic habitat of the river.

( Source – PTI )

PIL seeking direction to EC on polls dismissed

PIL seeking direction to EC on polls dismissed
PIL seeking direction to EC on polls dismissed

A PIL seeking to direct the Election Commission, under the overall supervision of Governors of the respective state governments, take control of government machinery from the date of election notification till declaration of elections results, was disposed by the Madras High Court today.

The bench, comprising Justices S Manikumar and C T Selvam, disposed of the petition after recording government advocate’s submission that the petitioner’s representationfor curbing corruption during polls was under government’s consideration.

Advocate M Ganesan, the petitioner, contended that states should be under the supervision of the Governor for conduct of free and fair elections.

He also submitted that amendments should be made in relevant provisions of the Election Law and Representation of People Act by taking up recommendations and suggesions to eliminate corrupt practices being allegedly followed by the ruling party or the opposition.

Ganes said that as per law, MLAs, MPs, ministers are government servants and laws and procedures applicable to the latter are also applicable to them.

But a government servant is dismissed for malpractices while MLAs or MPs are allowed to continue even after punishment, he said.

There was also the problem of elections being funded by blackmoney holders and mafia. There was no accountability or audit, the petitioner said.

The corrupt practices followed by political parties to win elections could not be proved as the government machinery in states are under the control of political parties, he said.

A total sum of Rs 1,183 crore was spent on general elections by MLAs and MPs from various states under EC rules. Despite that, malpractices continued during elections, he alleged.

( Source – PTI )

Court takes cognizance of complaint against Smriti Irani

Court takes cognizance of complaint against Smriti Irani
Court takes cognizance of complaint against Smriti Irani

In fresh trouble for HRD Minister Smriti Irani, a Delhi court today took cognizance of a complaint filed against her for allegedly giving false information about her educational qualification.

Metropolitan Magistrate Akash Jain took cognizance of the complaint and fixed the matter for recording of pre-summoning evidence on August 28.

“It is held that the present complaint case is filed under limitation (of time). Cognizance is taken. The matter be now fixed for pre-summoning evidence on August 28,” the magistrate said.

The complaint was filed by freelance writer Ahmer Khan, who alleged that Irani, in her three affidavits before the Election Commission (EC) while filing nominations for her candidature for Lok Sabha as well as Rajya Sabha polls, had purportedly given different details about her educational qualification.

Sangma to move EC against UPA’s presidential nominee

P A Sangma has decided to petition the Election Commission on Saturday against UPA’s presidential nominee Pranab Mukherjee.

The Rajya Sabha secretary general, the returning officer, had on Wednesday rejected their objection that  presidential nominee Mukherjee should be disqualified as a presidential nominee because he had violated office of profit rules. “We have decided to petition the Chief Election Commissioner against the returning officer’s order,” said BJP leader S S Ahluwalia after a meeting at Leader of Opposition Sushma Swaraj’s residence, which was attended by Sangma, Subramaniam Swamy, Ananth Kumar, and Sangma’s election representative Satya Pal Jain.

“We have examined the order passed by the returning officer. We are of the view that he has not dealt adequately with the various issues that we raised during the scrutiny process,” said Jain.

Interestingly, in the proceedings that were made public today, Jain’s primary allegation was that Mukherjee’s resignation letter to the Indian Statistical Institute in Kolkata was “back-dated”.

During the scrutiny proceedings, Jain claimed that Mukherjee continues to hold the office of chairman of ISI, Kolkata. “The letter seems to have been forged in the back date. So, my respectful submission is that this is a clear-cut case, open and shut case, that he is holding the office till date. They have not been able to lay down any material about the acceptance of the resignation, about the tendering of the resignation. Even the original has not come. Where is the original document? You are holding an inquiry. Only photocopy has come. The original has also not been produced,” Jain said.