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20.01.2020
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The Supreme Court on Monday sought response of the Centre and the Election Commission (ECI) on a plea seeking stay on the electoral bond scheme meant for funding political parties. The top court, however, refused to grant an interim stay on the electoral bond scheme.

The petitions, filed by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the NGO Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), were be heard by a bench comprising CJI S.A. Bobde and Justices Surya Kant and B.R. Gavai.

Lawyer Prashant Bhushan, appearing for the NGO, alleged that the scheme is a means for channelising unaccounted black money in favour of the ruing party. Bhushan also referred to a document of the RBI while seeking stay of the scheme. "We will see that. We are listing it after two weeks, the bench said. Senior advocate Rakesh Dwivedi, appearing for the ECI, said all these arguments have already been advanced earlier and sought four weeks time to reply to the plea of the NGO against the scheme. 

The electoral bonds scheme has always been controversial. A matter of concern is that, under it, the donors remain anonymous. Introduced in the Union budget of 2017-18, an electoral bond is a bearer instrument that can be purchased from specified branches of the State Bank of India, and is available in denominations of Rs1,000, Rs10,000, 01 lakh, and Rs1 crore. The bond can be purchased by anyone with a KYC-compliant bank account, and it can be donated to any political party, which can encash the bond through a verified account within 15 days.

This means that the bank would have the details of the donors and the parties that have encashed the bonds, but political parties would not be required to reveal the donors in their accounting reports. The donor details, therefore, would not be available to the public.

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has said that some element of transparency would be introduced through the scheme, whereby all donors declare the amount of bonds that they have purchased and all parties declare the quantum of bonds they have received. But he maintained that only the donor would know how much that person had contributed to a political party.

Critics say the scheme, together with the 2017 amendment to the Companies Act that removed the cap on corporate contributions to political parties, will only strengthen the nexus of corporates and politicians. Earlier, companies could donate only as much as 7.5 per cent of the average of net profits earned in the previous three years. This cap has been removed, along with the requirement for corporate bodies to declare their donations to political parties.

The CPI(M) in its petition, spoke of "the purchaser's identity remaining hidden", and "corporate influences further strengthened. Argued ADR in its petition: "The petitioners submit that the amendments in question have opened the floodgates to unlimited corporate donations to political parties and anonymous financing by Indian as well as foreign companies which can have serious repercussions on the Indian democracy."

-Inputs from PTI

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