Source: 
Daily Pioneer
https://www.dailypioneer.com/2024/columnists/the-implications-of-the-supreme-court-ruling.html
Author: 
Kalyani Shankar
Date: 
20.02.2024
City: 

As the ruling BJP and other parties grapple with the fallout of the Supreme Court ruling on Electoral Bonds, it may have far-reaching implications for Indian democracy

Indian elections are intricate and complex events that involve millions of voters and multiple political parties. These parties rely heavily on contributions from individuals and corporations to finance their campaigns, as funding is crucial. A lot of black money also circulates during elections.  When Narendra Modi became the Prime Minister of India in 2014, he promised to prevent using illegal money in politics. Three years later, in 2017, he introduced Electoral Bonds that he claimed would increase transparency in political funding. However, some people challenged the secrecy clause and violation of fundamental rights in Court. Recently, the Supreme Court declared anonymous political donations to be invalid. This decision could make it difficult for their campaigns before the 2024 elections.

The Apex Court ruled that "Electoral Bonds" violate citizens' right to access Government information and violate Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution. "Information about the funding of political parties is essential for effectively exercising the choice of voting," Chief Justice Chandrachud stressed, emphasising the importance of open governance. The Government-owned State Bank of India has been ordered to stop issuing these bonds and provide details to the Election Commission of India. A group of five judges made this decision.

This is not good news for most parties, particularly the ruling BJP. Besides the BJP, some other political parties also benefited from the bonds. Judges examined whether the Electoral Bond scheme broke constitutional rules, stopped voters from getting vital information, allowed secret donations while protecting donors' privacy, and threatened democratic processes.  Previously, political parties were required to disclose the identities of donors who contributed more than 20,000 rupees. However, electoral bonds allow political parties to report the money received without revealing the donors' identities. These bonds have a range of 1,000 to 10 million rupees.

People must know if political funding is transparent or not. One of the main criticisms is that it's hard to trace where the money comes from when buying these bonds, making it challenging to identify the source of the funds.  According to recent ADR data, from 2017 and 2022, the total amount donated by corporations during this period was `3,299.85 crore. The BJP received the most significant share of this amount, with a total of `3,299.85. The Congress party received `406.45 crore, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) received `109.5 crore, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI-M) received `29.1 crore, and the All India Trinamool Congress (AITC) received `49.7 crore through Electoral Bonds.

ADR's report claims that withholding information about political contributions is unreasonable. Taxpayers should know where political parties get their funding. The lack of transparency raises accountability questions. Taxpayers' money is spent printing bonds, and SBI profits from their sales.

It claims that taxpayers have the right to know where political parties get their funding. The need for more transparency raises doubts about accountability. Taxpayers' money is used to print bonds, and SBI profits from their sale are deemed unfair. The public and opposition parties must be aware of the source of these donations, although the Government can access donor details from SBI. In Parliament, the Government disregarded warnings from major central agencies and opposition Members of Parliament and launched the Electoral Bond Scheme. The Bonds bill was passed as a money bill.

Earlier, the Ministry of Law emphasised that the bond scheme should comply with the Representation of Peoples Act 1951. The ECI also opposed it. The Election Commission has registered 2,858 political parties, but only a tiny percentage, just 2.17%, are currently recognised.

Some parties may never participate in elections, while others may be involved in money laundering activities. During the 2019 elections, political parties received a record-breaking amount of `2,760.20 crore in anonymous donations through Electoral Bonds. This was the highest amount received in 2017-18 and 2018-19. From 2017-18 to 2020-21, 19 political parties redeemed Electoral Bonds worth approximately `6.5 thousand crores. The spending on the last six Lok Sabha elections increased almost six-fold, from `9,000 to over `55,000 crore in 2019. From 2018 to March 2022, the BJP received 57% of donations, while Congress only got 10%.

It is expected that the Government would honour the highest Court's ruling, unlike on earlier occasions. The Court has delivered its verdict, and now it must be put into action.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has reservations about donor confidentiality and retrospective disclosure. They claim that the court order will not affect their chances in the upcoming April-May elections as they aim to secure a third term for PM Modi. To prevent the influence of money in elections in the future, we need regulations for donations, spending limits, public funding, and disclosure. The Government is exploring options for Electoral reform. We have many reports that can help us make better decisions, so we need to look at them again. We must make changes to improve the election system.

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