Hindustan Times
Abraham Thomas

A bench comprising Chief Justice of India Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud and justice PS Narasimha directed the electoral bond matter to be listed in the third week of March

The Supreme Court on Tuesday posted petitions challenging the Electoral Bond Scheme, 2018 for hearing in March, and segregated those from a bunch of other pleas raising demands of bringing political parties under the ambit of the Right to Information (RTI) Act and amendments made to the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act through a money bill.

A bench comprising Chief Justice of India Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud and justice PS Narasimha directed the electoral bond matter to be listed in the third week of March after realising that the oldest petition in this regard was filed in 2017 by the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), in which the Centre had already filed its response.

The scheme was implemented in 2018 as a source of political funding where the credentials of donors were kept anonymous. These bonds were issued by the State Bank of India, and donations under this scheme made by corporate, and even foreign entities, enjoyed 100% tax exemption.

In 2018, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) had raised the issue with the top court, but that remained pending. Lately, two fresh petitions were filed by Congress leader Jaya Thakur and one Spandan Biswal, on which the SC issued the notice on Tuesday.

Attorney General R Venkatramani informed the court that although the Centre has filed its response, it was not aware of what was stated in the fresh petitions. The court granted the Centre two weeks to file an additional affidavit on any remaining issues, and directed both sides to present short notes of their submissions to facilitate smooth hearing of the case.

The other petitions raising the issue of bringing political parties under RTI and FCRA amendments were de-linked from the electoral bond cases and listed separately in April. The bench directed the Centre to file its response to those batch of cases as well within two weeks. The RTI batch of cases included a petition each by ADR, filed in 2015, and Delhi BJP leader Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay, filed in 2019. The last batch of cases involving FCRA amendments carried out through the Finance Act of 2016 and 2018 were challenged in a 2018 petition filed by ADR.

“These are completely different issues,” the bench noted after going through a tabulated list of cases under the three heads prepared by advocate Shadan Farasat appearing for CPI(M).

The top court had in December directed the matter to be listed in the last week of January on an application by ADR seeking reference of the matter to a five-judge bench.

The ADR which opposed the scheme since its inception said that such an anonymous route of funding amounted to legitimising bribery as corporates could fund the party in power in a state or Centre as a matter of quid pro quo. These donations enjoy 100% tax exemption and even foreign companies can donate through Indian subsidiaries, the petitioner claimed.

In April 2019, the top court directed all political parties to submit details of the receipts of electoral bonds to the Election Commission in a sealed cover as an interim measure till the petitions were finally decided.

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