The Supreme Court on Tuesday scheduled October 31 for the final hearing of petitions challenging the validity of the electoral bond scheme used for political party funding.
A bench of Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud and Justices J B Pardiwala and Manoj Misra, acknowledged lawyer Prashant Bhushan’s request for expedited adjudication before the scheme is employed in the 2024 general elections.
Prashant Bhushan, representing the NGO Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), argued that anonymous funding through electoral bonds fosters corruption and infringes upon citizens’ right to a corruption-free nation. He stated, “This promotes corruption as the source of funding is anonymous, it is violative of Article 21, and the ‘non-decision’ in the case compounds the problem.”
The bench responded, “We are here and hearing this now.” After considering preliminary submissions on the electoral bond scheme, the bench set four petitions for final hearing on October 31 and indicated a continuation on November 1 if necessary.
Previously, the Apex Court had contemplated whether these pleas challenging the electoral bond scheme’s validity should be referred to a constitutional bench for a definitive ruling. One of the PIL petitioners had claimed that Rs 12,000 crore had been channeled to political parties via electoral bonds, with a significant portion going to a major political party.
The court had designated two lawyers, including Neha Rathi, as nodal counsel to ensure the smooth handling of the PILs and coordination in filing judgments and records.
Earlier, on January 31, the court had decided to hear three sets of petitions separately: those regarding the electoral bond scheme, the inclusion of political parties under the Right to Information Act, and challenges to amendments in the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act. The hearing for pleas challenging the laws related to political party funding through electoral bonds was scheduled for the third week of March.
Electoral bonds were introduced as a substitute for cash donations to political parties to enhance transparency in political funding. Prashant Bhushan had urged the apex court to urgently list the PIL and direct the government not to open any additional windows for the sale of electoral bonds during the pending case.
The NGO, which filed the PIL concerning alleged corruption, subversion of democracy through illicit and foreign funding of political parties, and lack of transparency in their bank accounts, had requested in March 2021 that the sale of electoral bonds should not be reopened before the assembly polls in West Bengal and Assam.
On January 20, 2020, the Supreme Court declined to grant an interim stay on the 2018 Electoral Bonds Scheme and sought responses from the Centre and the Election Commission regarding an interim application by the NGO seeking a stay on the scheme.
The Electoral Bond Scheme, introduced by the government on January 2, 2018, permits citizens of India and entities established in India to purchase electoral bonds. These bonds can be purchased individually or jointly with others. Eligible recipients of electoral bonds are political parties registered under Section 29A of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, that have secured at least one percent of votes in the last general election to Lok Sabha or the Legislative Assembly of the state.