On Electoral Bonds Verdict, “Weighing Options, No Ordinance Yet”: Sources

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The Electoral Bonds Scheme was notified by the government in January 2018 (File).

New Delhi:

A day after the Supreme Court struck down the electoral bonds scheme – on grounds it violated citizens’ right to information, was unconstitutional, and may lead to quid pro quo arrangements between political parties and donors – the government has said it is “studying” the order.

Sources told NDTV the government is weighing options and will not, at this stage, move to overrule the country’s highest court, like it did in December when it passed a bill – with most opposition leaders suspended – to establish a new mechanism to appoint members of the Election Commission.

Sources also said the government is concerned about the return of black money, and had further noted that revealing donors’ identities – as instructed by the court – is “against laws of banking”.

Electoral bonds, sources said, were brought in to “reduce magnitude of black money” before 2017″ and were move the landscape of political funding “from a murky situation to a better system”.

The other model – under which trusts distribute contributions received by companies and individuals to political parties – “has been studied in the past, but its challenges were too many”, sources added.

The electoral bonds scheme was meant to “give comfort to donors”, government sources said.

BJP’s Response

This comes after top BJP leader Ravi Shankar Prasad said the bonds were part of his party’s “sincere efforts to make elections transparent”, but that it would also respect the court’s order.

READ | BJP Defends Electoral Bonds, But Says Respects Supreme Court Verdict

Mr Prasad, however, reserved further comment, pointing to the extensive final order (which runs into hundreds of pages) and stating it required study before the BJP decided its next course.

Supreme Court’s Electoral Bonds Verdict

On Thursday a bench led by Chief Justice DY Chandrachud said the scheme could not compensate for its drawbacks. Electoral bonds, the court said, could not be the only way to curb black money.

The landmark order came just weeks before a general election.

The court ordered the State Bank of India to stop issuing bonds and provide details of donations made to the Election Commission, which was told to publish the data on its website by March 13.

READ | Electoral Bonds “Unconstitutional”, Stop Immediately: Supreme Court

Petitioners had argued the scheme, launched in 2018, allowed political parties to not disclose contributions received via this route, meaning companies could make unlimited fund transfers.

The crux of the issue were – does such unlimited corporate funding violate the principle of a free and fair election, and if the amendments violated the Right to Information Act.

READ | 2 Key Issues In Focus As Supreme Court Struck Down Electoral Bonds

During a hearing in November last year (the second hearing), the court also noted the bonds “provide (only) selective anonymity… ” since purchase records can be accessed by investigative agencies.

READ | “Selective Anonymity”: Supreme Court On Day 2 Of Electoral Bonds Hearing

This was in response to the government’s argument that absent provision for anonymous donations, a large volume of political funding could revert to black money. The government had also argued the provision for anonymous donation was needed to protect donors from “victimisation and retribution”.

What Opposition Said

The Congress welcomed the verdict, stating it reinforced the power of ‘votes’ over ‘notes. Senior leader, ex-Union Finance Minister P Chidambaram, said the “right of the people to know has been placed above all clever legal arguments… to defend the illegal electoral bonds scheme”.

READ | Court’s Electoral Bond Verdict Gives CPM A ‘I Told You So’ Moment

The Aam Aadmi Party called the verdict an important step in ensuring transparent polls, and the Communist Party of India (Marxist), a petitioner in the case, said electoral bonds were the “legalisation of political corruption”. The CPM was the only party that didn’t accept such donations.

What Are Electoral Bonds. Who Got How Much?

Electoral bonds are financial instruments that allow individuals and/or businesses to make anonymous donations to political parties. They were introduced by the BJP-led central government in 2018 as an alternative to cash donations and were pitched as an initiative to make political funding clean.

According to Election Commission data, 28,030 electoral bonds worth Rs 16,437.63 crore were sold between 2016 and 2022, with the BJP raking in over Rs 10,000 crore from that amount.

READ | Election Bonds Worth Rs 16,000 Crore Sold Till 2022. Who Got How Much

The party that got the next highest was the Congress, with less than Rs 1,600 crore.

In fact, donations to the BJP were thrice more than that given to the 30 other on the list.

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