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Electoral Bonds must be scrapped

With the Supreme Court set to hear the cases about the Electoral Bonds scheme, there is hope that an early judicial decision will be made and this dangerous system of anonymous funding of political parties will be scrapped. Petitions challenging the scheme have been pending before the court for over five years. A five-judge Constitution Bench is now expected to hear the cases on October 31.

The Bench has said that the final hearing will take place now, as preliminary submissions have been made by both sides and compilations filed. The Chief Justice of India D Y Chandrachud remarked last week that “We are here to decide the case”, and so it is likely that there will be a decision. The 28th tranche of the sale of bonds opened and closed this month ahead of the Assembly elections to be held next month in five states. The petitioners have sought a decision before next year’s Lok Sabha elections. The CJI has done well by refusing to delay the case in recognition of the “importance of the issue.”

There are several problems with Electoral Bonds. The petitioners have requested the court to focus mainly on two issues concerning the scheme. One is the legalisation of anonymous donations, and the other is the violation of citizens’ right to information about the funding of parties. The two issues concern violation of Articles 19, 14 and 21 of the Constitution. Several questions have been raised about the scheme ever since its inception. It ensures the flow of money to political parties through the banking channel but without disclosure of the donor’s identity. The legalisation of anonymous donations would amount to facilitation and legitimisation of corruption. In a democracy, the public have the right to know who funds parties because the funding may be used to influence policies. Indeed, more than 95% of the donations through Electoral Bonds have been in denominations of Rs 1 crore and above, suggesting that these are donations by either corporates or rich individuals. There is also the concern that the Bonds facilitate money-laundering, though the government has claimed that its purpose is the opposite.

It has also been noted that the BJP has received the lion’s share of the donations. Ruling parties have an advantage in the matter of political donations but the system should not institutionalise the bias in their favour. Since the funding is done through the State Bank of India, the government has access to the identity of donors. It can use this knowledge to ensure that opposition parties do not get funds. The Electoral Bonds scheme thus not only creates an uneven playing field for political parties but is a danger to our democracy.

(Published 17 October 2023, 20:33 IST)

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