The Wire
The Wire Staff
New Delhi

The Supreme Court today, February 15, struck down the electoral bonds scheme, declaring it unconstitutional and saying that anonymous electoral bonds are violative of the right to information and Article 19(1)(a).

The electoral bond scheme was brought by the Narendra Modi government early in 2018. Through it, companies and individuals in India can make anonymous donations to political parties.

Significantly, the apex court has asked the State Bank of India to furnish to the Election Commission of India, the details of donations through electoral bonds – which would presumably include donors – and the details of the political parties which received the contributions.

The court directed the Election Commission to publish these details on the website by March 13, 2024.

The apex court has also stopped the issue of electoral bonds.

According to reporter Arvind Gunasekar, the Supreme Court has also ordered political parties to refund un-encashed electoral bonds to donor individuals and companies if they are within the 15-day validity period.

Rs 16,518 crore worth of electoral bonds were sold from 2018 to the start of 2024, the government recently informed parliament.

‘Right to privacy’

A bench led by Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud said that the court arrived at a unanimous decision with two opinions, one by the CJI himself and another by Justice Sanjiv Khanna. “Both arrive at same conclusion. There is a slight variance in the reasoning,” he said, according to LiveLaw‘s live posts on X from the hearing.

The bench also comprises Justices B.R. Gavai, J.B. Pardiwala, and Manoj Misra.

The bench said that the amendments to the Companies Act are unconstitutional. It noted that the infringement to the right to information is not justified with the stated purpose of curbing black money.

The CJI, while reading out the judgment, also said that financial contributions to political parties are made either to support it or in fulfilment of a quid pro quo arrangement.

Right to privacy of political affiliation does not extend to contributions made to influence public policy and applies only to contributions below the threshold,  the bench stressed.

The bench noted that under the scheme, while the ruling party would have the identity of the donors, no opposition party could have it.

Among those that challenged the scheme in the apex court are Congress leader Jaya Thakur, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), and the non-governmental Association for Democratic Reforms.

The court heard arguments in the case over three days last year. On November 2, it reserved its judgment.

Electoral bonds worth more than Rs 570 crores have been sold in the latest phase of the sale that lasted from January 2 to January 11, 2024, a Right to Information (RTI) query filed by transparency activist Commodore Lokesh Batra has revealed.

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