Indian Express
Express News Service
New Delhi

Pleas challenging scheme will be taken up in the third week of March, those for bringing political parties under RTI Act in April first week and those against FCRA amendments in mid-April.

The Supreme Court Tuesday posted petitions challenging the Electoral Bonds Scheme, 2018, for hearing in the third week of March.

A bench presided by Chief Justice of India D Y Chandrachud noted that the batch of petitions raised three separate issues—a challenge to electoral bonds, whether political parties should be brought under the ambit of the RTI Act, and amendments made to the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA).

The bench, also comprising Justice P S Narasimha, decided to hear the three issues separately and said while the pleas challenging the scheme will be taken up in the third week of March, those for bringing political parties under the RTI Act will be heard in the first week of April and those against the FCRA amendments in the middle of April.

The court asked the Centre to file any additional affidavit, if it wanted to, in the matter.

The matter was heard last on December 15, 2022, by a bench presided by Justice B R Gavai.

While the Centre had termed the scheme “a big step towards electoral reform” which “will ensure transparency” and “accountability”, petitioners contend that it affects transparency in political funding as it allows political parties not to disclose their annual contribution reports to the Election Commission of India (ECI) and details of the identity of those who have donated through the Electoral Bonds.

In April 2019, a three-judge SC bench, in an interim order, directed political parties, which received donations through Electoral Bonds, to “forthwith” submit the details of the bonds to the ECI.

Rejecting the prayer to stay the sale of fresh bonds yet again in March 2021, the Supreme Court disputed the petitioner’s contention regarding the “complete anonymity” of bond purchasers and said, “it is not as though the operations under the scheme are behind iron curtains incapable of being pierced”.

The court pointed out that bonds had been issued in the past—in 2018, 2019 and 2020—“without any impediment” and it had already ordered “certain safeguards” by way of its April 2019 interim order.

It also referred to the EC receiving details of contributions received through bonds, in pursuance of the April 2019 order. “We do not know at this stage as to how far the allegation that under the scheme, there would be complete anonymity in the financing of political parties by corporate houses, both in India and abroad, is sustainable,” it had said.

In the last hearing, the petitioners had contended that the matter involved “weighty issues of public importance” which would require an “authoritative pronouncement”. They urged the court to refer it to a five-judge constitution bench. A bench of Justices Gavai and Vikram Nath made it clear that a preliminary hearing is required for that.

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