In a key development, JMM became the first political party to disclose the name of the entity which donated money to it through the electoral bond scheme. As per the Association for Democratic Reforms, the Shibu Soren-led party mentioned in its contribution report for the financial year 2019-20 that it received Rs.1 crore from the Hindalco Industries Limited. The report added that more than 50% of the total income of 19 parties for FY20 was received from donations through electoral bonds whereby the identity of the donors is not disclosed to the public.

What is the electoral bond scheme?

Notified by the Centre on January 2, 2018, this scheme entails the usage of electoral bonds which are interest-free bearer instruments used to donate money anonymously to political parties. Electoral bonds are issued in multiples of Rs.1,000, Rs.10,000 and Rs.1 crore by select State Bank of India (SBI) branches through a KYC-compliant account. Congress has launched a sustained attack against this scheme alleging that it was a ploy to transfer "black money to the BJP coffers”. Leaders such as Manish Tewari and Rahul Gandhi stepped up their criticism after some media reports claimed that the government had overruled the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) to introduce this scheme. 

SC refuses interim stay

Recently, the ADR filed a plea seeking a direction to put the sale of electoral bonds scheduled between April 1-10 on hold. During the hearing, the three-judge bench of the Supreme Court comprising Chief Justice SA Bobde, Justices AS Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian expressed concern over the possibility of political parties misusing money received through electoral bonds to fuel violent protests or terrorism. Appearing for the Centre, Attorney General KK Venugopal submitted that only registered parties who have not secured less than 1% of votes in the previous election are eligible to receive donations through electoral bonds. 

Arguing for ADR, senior advocate Prashant Bhushan stated that this scheme introduces anonymity in political donations at many levels. Alleging that the scheme opens the door for direct bribery, he stressed that the electorate deserves to know the source of funds and antecedents of candidates. When the CJI pointed out that donations can be given to opposition parties too, Bhushan retorted that the government would know if money is given to other parties. Refusing to grant any relief to the petitioner, the bench held that there are sufficient safeguards in the scheme as the electoral bonds were permitted in 2018 and 2019 without interruption. 

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