Source: 
Navhind Times
https://www.navhindtimes.in/2024/02/26/magazines/bnc/scrutiny-needed-on-political-parties-corporate-funding/
Author: 
Shoma Patnaik
Date: 
26.02.2024
City: 

Poll rights body, the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), has fought and won various PILs related to voter rights. The electoral bond case won in the Supreme Court on February 15, is by far its biggest victory. During a visit to the state Dr. Jagdeep Chhokar, founder-member, ADR, spoke on the biases in the now scrapped electoral bond scheme and why it needed to be junked, reports

Barely a fortnight back a landmark judgment by the Supreme Court on February 15, declared the ruling party’s electoral bond scheme unconstitutional.

Dr Jagdeep Chhokar, founder member of the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), said the verdict is a big win for democracy in India.

“The judgment is comprehensive. It has covered things that were not argued in the court. It will be used as a precedent in several areas particularly in matters relating to democracy, corporate donations and RTI,” said the citizen activist, while speaking in the city.

Talking informally to the small group of residents, Chhokar discussed the enforcement of the order.

“The Supreme Court did a wonderful job, but the implementation is with the executive which it seems, does not want to do it. There could be an ordinance to overturn the judgment or a review can be demanded. The ADR will contest the review.  We will use constitutional means to address the issue,” he remarked.

The ADR trustee urged Goans to be actively involved in practicing citizenship rights. “Being a citizen is a full-time job. It keeps me busy with little time to do anything else,” said Chhokar, who has been an engineer, a professor, researcher, manager and the former dean of the Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Ahmedabad.

He called for heightened scrutiny on why elections cost so much of money and why political parties continuously need funding from the corporate sector.

Explaining the judgment’s far-reaching impact, he said the Election Commission has directed the State Bank of India to provide information on every single electoral bond sold. “By March 15, all might know who gave how much to the political parties in the last seven years.”

Electoral bonds were issued by the government in 2018 a year after the concept was first introduced in the Budget by the finance minister.

“Everybody was happy about the bonds when it was first mentioned in the Budget speech. Then, in the media interaction which came later, the finance minister said the bonds will be bearer in nature and the donor will be anonymous. That is when alarm bells started ringing. Transparency cannot go together with anonymity. The ADR forwarded a petition against electoral bonds even before the scheme was notified,” said Chhokar explaining the Supreme Court verdict and why electoral bonds have been declared as unconstitutional. 

Electoral bonds allowed anonymous donations by companies to political parties.  Under it, company donations to political parties were a secret and known only to the State Bank of India (the issuer of the instrument) which would not disclose the information to anybody.

The ADR petition was filed together with Common Cause, a civil society organization. It challenged the Finance Act, 2017, electoral bonds and the removal of company’s limit to donate. The Court in its verdict said that nameless funding of political parties is against citizens rights and, “there could be possibility of quid pro quo arrangement between companies and parties.”

Donations worth Rs 16,518.10 crore have been made by companies by way of electoral bonds over six years with the ruling parting garnering 60 per cent of the funds and the remaining divided between other political parties.

“The scheme bothered ADR members because it had the potential to choke the funding to all opposition parties.  It destroyed level playing field in the electoral arena. It gave the appearance of being well-thought out and enhancing transparency but actually it was doing the exact opposite,” said Chhokar to the interested audience.

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