A courtroom in the Supreme Court of India. (Image: Supreme Court website)

Supreme Court Asks Political Parties To Disclose Details Of Electoral Bonds In Sealed Covers

The Supreme Court asked all political parties to submit details of funds received through electoral bonds, including the identity of donors, to the Election Commission in a sealed cover by the end of next month even as it refused to stay the scheme.

The details of the bonds received till May 15 will have to be given by May 30, the apex court said while hearing a petition challenging the scheme. It also directed the Finance Ministry to remove five extra days in April and May for purchasing electoral bonds. The court, however, didn’t grant a stay sought by the petitioner—Association for Democratic Reforms.

“Such issues will require an in-depth hearing,” Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi said. “The court has to ensure that any interim arrangement made will not tilt the balance in favour of either parties.”

Advocate Prashant Bhushan, who had appeared for the ADR, had asked the court to either stay the scheme or order parties to disclose identity of donors. He argued that the electoral bonds made political funding opaque, a stand that even the Election Commission supported during the hearings.

Jagdeep Chhokar, founding member of ADR, said he doesn’t see any immediate impact of the Supreme Court order. It’s possible that political parties may say that they received the bonds via post and donors didn’t disclose their identity on the bonds. This decision seems like it will have an impact, but in reality it will not have any impact, he said.

An electoral bond is an interest-free instrument, like a promissory note. Any interested donor can buy such bonds of any value from specified State Bank of India branches and issue them to any political party. Once the bond is issued, the party has 15 days to encash it. While the party may not get to know the identity of the donor, the bank knows but is expected to keep it confidential.

Also read: What The Debate Around Electoral Bonds Is All About

The opposition parties allege that the government will be able to identify donors to its political opponents. The Congress even promised to scrap it if voted to power. The Election Commission, during the arguments, said the scheme ran counter to the idea of transparency in political funding. Senior Advocate Rakesh Dwivedi, who appeared for the commission, said it was not against the electoral bonds but the commission’s objection was based on the fact that these instruments enable anonymous donations.

The government, however, have termed the concerns without merit. Attorney General KK Venugopal even cited the Supreme Court’s Right to Privacy judgment to argue that voters don’t have the right to know the source of funding of political parties. He argued that electoral bonds are meant to curb black money.