Press Trust of india

SC to hear pleas challenging electoral bond scheme in last week of January

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New Delhi: The Supreme Court said on Thursday it will hear in the last week of January 2023, a batch of PILs challenging laws permitting funding of political parties through the electoral bond scheme.

Electoral bonds have been pitched as an alternative to cash donations made to political parties as part of efforts to bring in transparency in political funding.

A bench of Justices B R Gavai and Vikram Nath said the matter requires to be heard.

“This is a 2015 matter. You can’t have such an emergency just before the penultimate day of the vacation…There is no election as of now. We will hear it in the last week of January, 2023,” the bench said.

Lawyer Prashant Bhushan, appearing for PIL petitioner NGO ‘Association for Democratic Reforms’, said there are several constitutional questions involved in the petitions which have a bearing on sanctity of the electoral process.

He said the issue of whether it should be referred to a  Constitution bench can be looked at first.

The apex court said that this will also require hearing.

The top court was hearing PILs by NGO Association for Democratic Reforms, The Communist Party of India (Marxist) and other petitioners.

Earlier, Bhushan had sought urgent listing of the PIL by the apex court  seeking a direction to the Centre not to open any further window for sale of electoral bonds during the pendency of a case pertaining to funding of political parties and alleged lack of transparency in their bank accounts.

The NGO, which had filed the PIL on the issue of alleged corruption and subversion of democracy through illicit and foreign funding of political parties and lack of transparency in the bank accounts of all political parties, had moved an interim application in March 2021 before the assembly polls in West Bengal and Assam seeking that the window for sale of electoral bonds be not reopened.

The NGO, in its fresh application filed in the pending petition, had claimed there was a serious apprehension that any further sale of electoral bonds before the upcoming assembly elections, including in West Bengal and Assam, will further increase illegal and illicit funding of political parties through shell companies.

On January 20, 2020, the apex court had refused to grant interim stay on the 2018 Electoral Bonds Scheme and sought responses of the Centre and the Election Commission to an interim application by the NGO seeking a stay on the scheme.

The government notified the Electoral Bond Scheme on January 2, 2018.

According to the provisions of the scheme, electoral bonds may be purchased by a person who is a citizen of India or incorporated or established in India. An individual can buy electoral bonds, either singly or jointly with other individuals.

Only political parties registered under Section 29A of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 and which secured not less than one per cent of votes polled in the last general election to the House of the People (Lok Sabha) or the Legislative Assembly of the state are eligible to receive electoral bonds.

According to the notification, electoral bonds shall be encashed by an eligible political party only through an account with an authorised bank.

The apex court had in April 2019 declined to stay the Centre’s Electoral Bond Scheme 2018 and made it clear that it will accord an in-depth hearing on the pleas as the Centre and the EC have raised “weighty issues” having “tremendous bearing on the sanctity of the electoral process in the country”.

The Centre and the EC had earlier taken contrary stands in the court over political funding, with the government wanting to maintain anonymity of the donors and the poll panel batting for revealing their names for the sake of transparency.

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