On December 4, the Supreme Court agreed to hear an application to stay the implementation of the Electoral Bonds Scheme of 2018 in January, 2020. While transparency campaigners are happy about this, they are also apprehensive as the three-judge Bench of Chief Justice of India, SA Bobde and Justices BR Gavai and Surya Kant court has not specified a date for the hearing. They expressed their apprehensions to National Herald that if the hearing was held after January 1, then by then the first sale of electoral bonds would already have started and the purpose of the judicial scrutiny may get lost.
The window for the first phase of electoral bonds in 2020 opens on January 1 and closes on January 10. The last date of encashment ends on January 24. But technically, they can be encashed anytime within 15 days of issue of bonds. The Supreme Court has its winter break till January 5. Thus, activists pray that the Supreme Court takes cognisance of these and holds the hearing before January 1 on a suo motu basis. The Legal Year commences on January 6 on a suo motu basis.
The matter was raised by Advocate Prashant Bhushan after a series of irregularities were recently reported vis-à-vis the electoral bonds scheme in the media based on responses to transparency campaigner Commodore Lokesh Batra’s (Retired) RTI enquiries.
The series of exposes has led to explosive revelations. First, the Chief Election Commissioner and the two Election Commissioners, had unanimously objected to not only the electoral bonds but also other amendments under the ‘Amendments in Finance Act, 2017’ and communicated the same to the Union Ministry of Law and Justice. Secondly, it was also found out that the Union Ministry of Law and Justice had forwarded the matter to the Ministry of Finance to seek their opinion on the matter which never came.
On December 18, 2018, the then MoS, Finance, Pon Radhakrishnan, was replying in the Rajya Sabha to Question No: 830 of All India Trinamool Congress MP, Mohd Nadimul Haque. Haque had, amongst other questions on the electoral bonds, sought the government’s reply as to what the Modi government felt about the ECI’s concern about electoral bonds. The MoS said that the government (Ministry of Finance) had not received any concern from the Election Commission of India (ECI) when the ECI’s reservations were clearly conveyed to the Ministry of Finance by the Ministry of Law and Justice.
It was also found out that many bonds were encashed after the last date for encashment of the bonds was over. Bonds were also traceable, thus making it possible for those in power to know who has donated how much to which party.
An Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) report, released earlier this year, had shown that the ruling BJP had walked off with a windfall, cornering as much as 95 per cent of the bonds sold in 2018.