March , 2024
Supreme Court, the Electoral Bonds & Transparency
23:37 pm

Buroshiva Dasgupta

The Supreme Court finally struck down the government’s electoral bond scheme last week. It’s a landmark judgment in favour of transparency to the voters. It’s a victory for the people’s act – Right to Information (RTI). But will its removal really reduce corruption – the reason why it was originally introduced?

It is difficult to answer the question. The government pleader argued precisely on this point – the removal of the electoral bond would increase corruption in the election process. But the Supreme Court said that transparency was a better bet for removing corruption in the system. The government also tried to argue that this was an ‘economic issue’ and the judiciary could not interfere in the matter. But here again the Supreme Court said since the electoral bonds had a political implication, the Supreme Court had every right to intervene.

The electoral bonds were introduced in 2018 as a part of the government’s attempt at electoral reforms. Before the bonds were introduced, companies (at least three years old) could donate 7.5% of their profits to political parties. But the amount of donations and the name of the recipient had to be mentioned in the company’s profit and loss account. After the bonds were introduced, these barriers were removed. Neither the political party nor the company had to disclose either the amount or the name of the recipients.

After the Supreme Court judgment, two things still remain unresolved. Companies can still donate funds to political parties, now not through the anonymity of the bonds, but directly to the political parties’ funds. However, the political parties continue to enjoy the privilege of not disclosing the source of the funds. What is worse, the political parties are still not bound by any law to disclose the income and expenditure. A bill to that effect was attempted to be introduced in the parliament during Manmohan Singh regime; but it was vehemently opposed by all parties including his own Congress party. Some people (and institutions) are still “more equal”.

The judgment of the Supreme Court continues to be a matter of concern for both the political parties and the companies. Earlier, the rights of the voter were limited to disclosures by the Election Commission about the criminal antecedents and the assets of the candidates. The people at large could only speculate how swiftly the assets of the candidates had grown after the elections. There was no clue as to how they had amassed it. Now after the judgment, the voter’s right to know gets extended to the source of funding of the political parties. In other words, the next step of electoral reforms should be to ask all the political parties to disclose the income and expenditure.

The court in its judgment also said that there will be retrospective disclosures of all donations since 2019. Many of the anonymous corporate donors will now find their names in the public domain. Emboldened by the Supreme Court judgment, the shareholders will now demand greater transparency regarding political donations from the corporate heads.

Surely, the legal battle on the issue will not end with this judgment. The political parties will not give up in the battle to keep their accounts to themselves. But the Association for Democratic Rights who moved the Supreme Court in the electoral bond issue will find their achievement only half done if they do not pursue the transparency issue to the end: that is the political parties’ treasury details.

Add new comment

Filtered HTML

  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.