Rosamma Thomas

In its order of November 2, 2023 on the case of Association for Democratic Reforms vs Union of India contesting constitutional validity of electoral bonds, the Supreme Court directed all political parties to give particulars of the bonds received by them in sealed covers to the Election Commission of India. SC sought that information be updated until September 2023.

The SC has also sought “detailed particulars of the donors against each bond”. It has sought information from the political parties about the “amount of each such bond” and “particulars of the bank account to which the amount has been credited.”

These details listed above were to be submitted to the Election Commission by the end of the working day of November 15, 2023, in “double sealed cover” (“one duly sealed envelope containing the particulars and second duly sealed envelope containing the first envelope”).

Sunlight, the old adage goes, is the best disinfectant – publicity, likewise, is healthful to the morals of government. Should not political parties ideally be obliged to publish details of amounts received in donation in the newspapers?

Just as businesses produce annual reports, to communicate their successes and record accomplishments and offer information about their functioning, should not political parties that seek to represent citizens offer periodic reports about the sources of their funds and the activities they have undertaken to further their goals?

Yet, the Supreme Court itself appears to foster the culture of secrecy in politics, seeking information that ought to be proudly placed in the public domain in “double sealed envelopes”.

Yet, as transparency activist Commodore Lokesh Batra is at pains to point out – the Supreme Court appears to have been misled in passing this order – the information it hassought is not available, in the first place, with the political parties.

Lokesh Batra says, Supreme Court appears to have been misled: information it has sought is not available with political parties

The court should ideally have sought information about the details of donors from the State Bank of India, whose 29 branches across the country are authorized to encash the bonds – political parties receive Electoral Bonds that are promissory notes, akin to the currency note, and although they are likely to have full knowledge of who the donor is, they are within the law to claim that they have no knowledge of the identity of the donor.

Commodore Batra points out that the SBI, as per its Know Your Customer protocol, would have details of the buyers of these bonds, for the purpose of making the donation to a political party; SBI would also have details of the political party account where the bond is redeemed – thus the information should have been sought from SBI rather than political parties.

Commodore Batra soldiers on in his quest for sunlight, seeking information about the Election Commission’s compliance with SC orders.

Given that the Supreme Court works to its own timetable, and given that under the Right to Information Act, there is a month’s time to respond to applications, there is likelihood that the next hearing would occur before the information is made available through RTI.

On such uncertainties rests the fate of transparency in electoral funding in India.

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