New Delhi: The Supreme Court will begin hearing a batch of petitions challenging the validity of the electoral bond scheme, which allows anonymous donations to political parties, from October 31. The petitions have been filed by various parties, including Congress and the CPI-M, who have raised concerns over the lack of transparency and accountability in the scheme.
The electoral bond scheme was introduced by the Centre in 2018 as a way to curb black money and corruption in political funding. Under the scheme, any citizen or entity can buy electoral bonds from designated branches of the State Bank of India (SBI) and donate them to a registered political party, which can encash them within 15 days. The identity of the donor is not disclosed to the public or the authorities, except to the SBI.
The Centre has defended the scheme, saying that it ensures clean money and protects the privacy of the donors. Attorney General R. Venkataramani has told the Supreme Court that citizens do not have a right to know the source of donations received by political parties under Article 19 (1) (A) of the Constitution, which guarantees freedom of speech and expression. He has argued that the scheme does not violate any existing right and that judicial review cannot be used to scrutinize government policies.
The Election Commission (EC), on the other hand, has opposed the scheme, saying that it undermines the principle of transparency and accountability in political funding. The EC has submitted that the scheme allows for unlimited and undisclosed donations from corporate and foreign sources, which can have a serious impact on the level playing field and democratic values. The EC has also pointed out that the scheme does not comply with the recommendations of various committees and reports on electoral reforms.
A five-judge Constitution bench, headed by Chief Justice DY Chandrachud and comprising Justices Sanjiv Khanna, BR Gavai, JB Pardiwala, and Manoj Mishra, will hear the final arguments in the case. The bench has been constituted after a three-judge bench referred the matter to a larger bench in October 2023, citing its importance and constitutional implications. The case has been pending in the Supreme Court for over eight years now and its outcome is expected to have a significant bearing on the Lok Sabha elections scheduled to take place next year.