The Supreme Court Tuesday said it will hear on April 2 the petitions which have challenged the issuance of electoralbonds by the government.
The matter came up for hearing before a bench comprising Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justices Deepak Gupta and Sanjiv Khanna.
The bench told advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing for one of the petitioners, Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), an NGO, that the matter would be heard by an appropriate bench on April 2.
“We will not be sitting in this combination. We will list the case before another bench next week,” it said.
ADR recently filed an application in the apex court seeking stay on the Electoral Bond Scheme, 2018 which was notified by the Centre in January last year.
It said amendments carried out in relevant Acts have “opened the floodgates to unlimited corporate donations to political parties and anonymous financing by Indian as well as foreign companies which can have serious repercussions on the Indian democracy”.
The application further said: ” Electoral bonds are being made available for a large number of days in three months leading to general elections in the country scheduled to be held…in April-May 2019 to constitute the 17th Lok Sabha.
“It is expected that enormous amount of corporate funding would be received by political parties in April and May and this would play a critical role in the elections.”
Referring to research and data compiled on the issue, the NGO has said that close to 97 per cent of all the bonds purchased so far were in denomination of Rs 10 lakh and Rs 1 crore with no demand for bonds of smaller denominations.
“The fear with regard to electoral bonds has been proven right in light of the ruling Bharatiya Janta Party’s annual audit report for 2017-18 according to which the ruling party received the largest chunk of the funds received through electoral bonds.
“BJP has earned more than Rs 1,000 crore in 2017-18 and is all set to be the maximum gainer of political funding in the last financial year, according to its annual returns submitted to the Election Commission,” the application has alleged and also referred to media reports on this.
On March 14, the Centre had defended in the apex court its decision to issue electoralbonds saying it aimed at ensuring “enhanced accountability” and pushing electoral reforms “to defeat the growing menace of black money”.
In an affidavit filed on a writ petition of CPI (M) and its general secretary Sitaram Yechury, the Centre had said the electoral bonds were introduced on January 2, 2018 to promote transparency in funding and donation received by political parties.
These can be encashed by an eligible political party only through their authorised bank accounts.
“Keeping in view the emergent need to ensure that there is enhanced accountability andelectoralreforms to defeat the growing menace of black money, especially when the country is moving towards a cashless-digital economy, the legislature has adopted a conscious legislative policy culminating in the introduction of the electronic reforms,” the Centre’s affidavit said.
It had added that electoral bonds do not have the name of the donor or the receiving political party and only carry a unique hidden alphanumeric serial numbers as an in-built security feature.
Only a political party, registered under Section 29A of the Representation of People’s Act, 1951 and which has secured not less than one per cent of the votes polled in the last general election to the Lok Sabha or the Legislative Assembly, will be eligible to receive the bond, the Centre had said.
On February 2 last year, the apex court had sought the Centre’s response on a plea by the CPI (M) which had termed the issuance of electoral bonds by the government as “arbitrary” and “discriminatory”.
The plea has claimed that government’s decision entitles political parties to receive unlimited donations without recording its source.
It has sought striking down of amendments made through the Finance Act, 2017 and the January 2, 2018 notification issued by the Ministry of Finance, whose cumulative effect is that political parties are entitled to receive unlimited donations from individuals and corporations, including loss-making and foreign corporations, without having to record or report the sources of such funding.
The NDA government had announced electoral bonds in the earlier budget, claiming that the scheme would clean up political funding.
The move was resisted by opposition parties. The Election Commission of India had also expressed its reservations initially.