As soon as the EC told a bench of Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justices Deepak Gupta and Sanjiv Khanna that it is not against electoral bonds “as such”, the court reminded it of its letter written to the Centre in May 2017 in which it termed it a “retrograde step” and sought to know whether the poll panel had changed its stand. “Shall we read your letter and your reply,” the bench observed.
Senior advocate Rakesh Dwivedi, appearing for the Commission, clarified that the poll panel had raised objections to not making public political donations made through electoral bonds.
The court thereafter asked him to read the letter which said, “It is evident from the amendment that any donation received by a political party through electoral bond has been taken out of the ambit of reporting under the contribution report as prescribed under Representation of the People Act and therefore, this is retrograde step as far as transparency of donations is concerned and this proviso needs to be withdrawn.”
The bench said EC’s recent affidavit filed in the court also objected to the Centre’s decision on electoral bonds and for permitting foreign companies to donate to political parties. “It is written in very simple English and we can understand it. This is your stand that foreign funding could lead to policies being influenced by foreign companies,” the bench said.
Dwivedi said electoral bonds legalise anonymity and that must go. He said the Commission has no problem with electoral bond with transparency where the names of donors would be made public. “Disclosure is must for the interest of democracy and people must know about political donations. Right to know about a political party is equally important as the right to know about a candidate fighting elections,” he said.
Justifying electoral bonds, attorney general K K Venugopal said it was introduced to weed out black money from electoral politics and referred to a report which claimed that 43.8 percent of money used in general elections is black money and in the case of assembly elections, it is nearly 46 percent.
“The entire purpose is to eradicate or reduce influence of black money in elections. Most of the big donors do not want their names to be revealed and they make donations out of their white money. Secrecy of payment is very important as the donors might be victimised by other political parties,” Venugopal said.
According to the provisions of scheme, the bonds will be issued in multiples of Rs 1,000, Rs 10,000, Rs 1 lakh, Rs 10 lakh and Rs 1 crore and will be available at specified branches of State Bank of India.
Donors can donate the bonds to their party of choice, which can then be encashed in the party’s verified account within 15 days. Every party that is registered under section 29A of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 and has secured at least 1 percent of the votes polled in the most recent Lok Sabha or assembly elections will be allotted a verified account by the Election Commission. Electoral bond transactions can be made only through that account.