Civil rights activists and opposition parties have termed the Supreme Court’s latest interim order to allow sale of electoral bonds starting April 1 “disappointing”, as it “perpetuates the rule of one particular party” and asserted the need for an “independent judiciary”.

“First, let us realise that this is not the final order,” said Jagdeep Chhokar from the Association for Democratic Reforms, the organisation that filed the petition for an interim stay considering the assembly elections in West Bengal, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Assam and Puducherry. “Our original petition, that challenges the very constitutionality of these bonds, is still pending with the Supreme Court.”

Transparency campaigner Commodore Lokesh Batra (retd) said that he was very disappointed by the Court’s order as it only selectively addressed the issues made in the petition. “The big questions that remained unanswered include the Court not even opening the 105 sealed envelopes filed by political parties containing details of the donors submitted to it by the Commission in pursuance of the 2019 order,” Batra said. “Moreover, the illegal sale of electoral bonds ahead of polls, such as before the Karnataka election also remains unanswered.”

Electoral bonds are sold four times a year — January, April, July and October — and allow political parties to accept money from donors whose identity is kept anonymous. The scheme was first introduced in 2018 and it has since met with criticism for lacking transparency. Those opposed to the scheme have also asserted that nearly 95% of the money donated has gone to the ruling party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

“The scheme has so many loopholes,” Chhokar added. “In a note, the finance ministry said that it had received representations from corporates about being harassed by other political parties if their identities were disclosed, whereas on the floor of Parliament, in response to an unstarred question, it said no representations were received.”

HT reached out to the EC for a comment but did not receive a response immediately.

“It doesn’t matter whether it is Congress or BJP at the helm, the scheme perpetuates an unfair totalitarian advantage for one particular party,” Chhokar said.

Dismissing two stay applications moved by NGO Association for Democratic Reforms, filed in 2019 and earlier this month, a three-judge bench of the apex court headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) SA Bobde noted that the sale of these bonds, which began in January 2018, have continued “without any impediment” in 2018, 2019 and 2020. ADR, in its application, said that electoral bonds could be a channel for corporate bribes to be paid to political parties as a quid pro quo since the scheme envisaged anonymity for donors.

The Election Commission, which supported the electoral bond policy in the apex court, said it has received sealed covers from various political parties (national, state, registered and unregistered) as per the April 12, 2019 order.

Congress MP Abhishek Manu Singhvi said that the Supreme Court should have quashed the scheme when it came under scrutiny for the first time.

“One interim allowance and interim continuation of electoral bonds by Gogoi headed Supreme Court bench earlier, without deciding the issue legally, constitutionally and finally, has unfortunately now become a precedent for another interim order on the basis that the first tranche of bonds was allowed to be issued and hence it cannot now be stopped. The SC should have ...decided the issue finally years ago,” Singhvi said.

According to CPI general secretary D Raja, the scheme is opaque and provides full advantage to the BJP. “It also fails the concept of free and fair elections. It is the duty of the ECI to ensure this and we also expect an independent judiciary to maintain constitutional principles and democratic norms.”

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