Electoral Bonds Case: In recent times, a crucial legal battle has been unfolding in India, as a five-judge bench headed by the Chief Justice, Chandrachud, and accompanied by justices Sanjiv Khanna, BR Gavai, JB Pardiwala, and Manoj Misra, is deliberating the legitimacy of Electoral Bonds. This case revolves around the issue of transparency in electoral funding, a matter that has long plagued Indian politics.
Lack of Transparency in Electoral Funding
For decades, the Indian political system has shown little interest in fostering transparency in electoral funding. It has become customary for lawmakers to make promises about enhancing transparency in political funding, only to leave these pledges unfulfilled. The situation reached a critical point when the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) introduced the Finance Act, disguised as a Money Bill, in the lower house. This strategy allowed them to circumvent objections from the opposition since Money Bills do not require the approval of the majority to become law. This move was instrumental in passing the legislation without entertaining critical suggestions or amendments.
Moreover, the Finance Act of 2017 introduced significant amendments to three other crucial laws: the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) Act, the Income Tax Act, and the Representation of People Act. These changes paved the way for the introduction of Electoral Bonds, a system that enabled individuals and corporate entities to donate unlimited amounts of funds to political parties while remaining anonymous.
Understanding Electoral Bonds: The Veil of Disparity
Electoral Bonds are a unique financial instrument, resembling interest-free bearer bonds, which can be purchased from any branch of the State Bank of India. These bonds are available in denominations of Rs 1,000, Rs 10,000, Rs 1 lakh, Rs 10 lakh, and Rs 1 crore. Their distinct feature is the ability to make anonymous donations through Know Your Customer (KYC)-compliant accounts to political parties.
The introduction of Electoral Bonds in 2018 was portrayed as a means to “regulate” the funding process for political parties and ostensibly address issues related to unaccounted black money in the system. However, this move raised concerns among many critics who questioned whether the system might have unintended consequences and compromise the very transparency and accountability it aimed to ensure.
Challenges and Concerns Surrounding Electoral Bonds: BJP’s Quid Pro Quo Tool
The Electoral Bond Scheme has encountered substantial criticism since its inception in 2018. The anonymous nature of donations to political parties has created a pressing need for increased transparency and accountability. Some of the key concerns include:
- Lack of Transparency: The anonymity of donations allows for potential misuse of funds, including money laundering and foreign influence in India’s electoral processes.
- Bypassing Scrutiny: The system effectively bypasses scrutiny by the Election Commission and lacks transparency in its functioning.
- Removal of Donation Limits: By eliminating the limits on corporate donations and disregarding critical amendments, there is a growing fear that the scheme might open the door to extensive financial manipulation in Indian politics.
These issues underscore the critical flaws in the Electoral Bonds system and emphasize the urgent need for transparency, accountability, and the protection of citizens’ rights to know the sources of political funding. The outcome of the ongoing case has the potential to profoundly impact the landscape of political funding in India. It is imperative for the Supreme Court to address the concerns raised by petitioners and critics and make the necessary amendments to protect and uphold voters’ rights in the Indian democratic process.