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Gyanvi Khanna

The Court reasoned that such information is essential for a voter's freedom to vote effectively.

“The information about funding to a political party is essential for a voter to exercise their freedom to vote in an effective manner. The Electoral Bond Scheme and the impugned provisions to the extent that they infringe upon the right to information of the voter by anonymizing contributions through electoral bonds are violative of Article 19(1)(a).,” the Court added.

The bench of Chief Justice DY Chandrachud and Justices Sanjiv Khanna, BR Gavai, JB Pardiwala, and Manoj Misra delivered this verdict in a batch of cases challenging the controversial electoral bonds scheme.

The challenge to this highly debatable scheme was brought to the court by the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), the Communist Party of India (Marxist), Congress leader Jaya Thakur, and others. The petitioners essentially argued that the anonymity associated with electoral bonds undermines transparency in political funding and encroaches upon voters' right to information.

Imperatively, one of the defence taken by the Union before the Supreme Court was that the citizens do not have the right to information under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution regarding the funding of a political party.

In the note submitted by Attorney General for India, R Venkataramani, he asserted that the judgments upholding the citizens' right to know of the criminal antecedents of candidates cannot be extrapolated to mean that they have the right to information regarding the funding of parties.

Citizens do not have a general right to know regarding the funding of political parties. Right to know is not a general right available to citizens.,” the note stated.

"Citizens do not have a general right to know regarding the funding of political parties. Right to know is not a general right available to citizens," the Centre argued before the Supreme Court.

However, today, this view of the Centre has been firmly rejected by the Supreme Court in its judgment. Reliance was placed on landmark precedents like ADR v. Union of India, (2002) 5 SCC 294 and PUCL v. Union of India, (2003) 4 SCC 399. In these cases, the Apex Court observed that voters have a right to information that is essential for them to exercise their freedom to vote.

To support its findings in this regard, the Court also demonstrated a close association of money with politics. Taking a cue from this, the Court voiced its concerns over the electoral bonds' potential to facilitate quid pro quo arrangements. It explained that this Quid pro quo arrangement could also be in the form of introducing a policy change.

On this aforestated background, the Court opined that such information would help the voters determine if there is any link between policymaking and financial donations.

The money that is contributed could not only influence electoral outcomes but also policies particularly because contributions are not merely limited to the campaign or pre-campaign period…Information about political funding would enable a voter to assess if there is a correlation between policy making and financial contributions.,” the Court held.

Electronic And Print Media Would Present The Information

Notably, the Court also mentioned that the voters need not task themselves with perusing the list of contributors. Electronic and print media would present the information on contributions received by political parties and the probable link between the contribution and the licenses that were given to the company in an accessible format., the Court said.

The Court added that response to such information by the Government will 'go a long way in informing the voter.'

Scheme Is Not Fool-Proof, Enables The Political Parties To Know The Particulars Of The Contributors

The union's submission that the political party that receives the contribution does not know the identity of the contributor did not find favor with the court. Without mincing its words, the Court stated that the scheme is not fool-proof and has sufficient gaps. This, in turn, enables the political parties to know the particulars of the contributions made to them.

Electoral bonds provide economically resourced contributors who already have a seat at the table selective anonymity vis-à-vis the public and not the political party.,” the Court firmly added.

"At a primary level, political contributions give a seat at the table to contributors, i.e., it enhances access to legislators. This access also translates to influence over policymaking. There is also a legitimate possibility that financial contributions to a political party would lead to quid pro quo arrangement because of the close nexus between money and politics. The electoral bond scheme and the impugned provisions to the extent that they infringe upon the right to information of the voter by anonymising contributions through electoral bonds are violative of Article 19(1)(a)," the judgment stated.

Case Title: Association for Democratic Reforms & Anr. v. Union of India & Ors. | Writ Petition (Civil) No. 880 of 2017

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