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Share funding details, court tells political parties

April 13, 2019

In a significant order, the Supreme Court (SC) has said that electoral bonds, which enable political parties to get donations anonymously, will not be stopped. However, all parties will have to submit receipts and details of funds and donors in a sealed cover to the Election Commission of India (ECI) by 30 May.

This was after the Association of Democratic Reforms (ADR) asked that the system of electoral bonds be stopped or for the donors to be disclosed for the sake of transparency in the election process.

We have considered the matter. We examined the stand by the Election Commission. For the present, it needs hearing and it can't be concluded in a short span of time. The court has to ensure interim arrangement and should not tilt favour of any party. - Supreme Court bench

The court has also directed the Finance Ministry to reduce the window of the purchase of electoral bonds from 10 to five days in April-May, when the general elections are being held. The court said that if the identity of those buying electoral funds meant for transparent political funding was not known, the government's efforts to check black money in polls would be pointless.

In court, the government made a strong argument to continue with the scheme saying that the purpose of the bonds was to reduce the use of black money in the elections. It also said that the court should not step in at this stage and do so after the elections are over. "Do not let transparency kill the electoral bond scheme," said K K Venugopal, the Attorney General of India, who is representing the government.

Anonymity of donors needs to be maintained for many reasons including fear of a backlash on a company or person if the other party wins and comes to power, said the government. "It is not voters' concern to know where the money comes from. Transparency cannot be looked as a ''mantra'', said Mr Venugopal, adding that the donors also had a right to privacy.

The government's stand in court was strongly criticised by many columnists on social media. "The party that claims to have launched a war on black money through Demonetisation now doesn't want us to know source of political funding. Why? Netas above the law?", tweeted Harinder Baweja. Author Krishan Partap Singh tweeted saying, "Voters don't need to know where money of political parties comes from..I'm sorry, Mr Attorney General, we damn well do because under the cover of secrecy it could very well be used to funnel massive kickbacks, payoffs & all-round corruption."

The electoral bond scheme, notified in January last year, allows the purchase of electoral bonds that a political party can receive and encash through a bank account. The bonds can be bought at a bank in denominations ranging from Rs. 1,000 to Rs. 10 million, and given to a political party, which can exchange them for cash.

The BJP was the biggest beneficiary of the electoral bond scheme in 2017-18, receiving bonds worth around Rs 210 crore of the Rs 215 crore issued. The Congress, which earned Rs 199 crore as income in 2017-18, got only Rs 5 crore in donations from electoral bonds.

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