All eyes on SC to adjudicate challenge to electoral bonds, review PMLA verdict judiciously

The BJP’s war chest gets fuelled by the sale of electoral bonds, giving it a huge advantage against Opposition parties during polls, while its hand-maiden ED uses PMLA to strike against its opponents

Supreme Court of India
Supreme Court of India

Nitya Chakraborty

Quoting from our great epic Mahabharata at an interaction with law students on Sunday, Chief Justice of India UU Lalit said, “Our motto in Supreme Court is ‘Yato Dharmastato Jayah’, meaning whatever is right shall prevail. Gandhari said this to Duryodhan while giving her blessings. That’s the kind of ethos this country stands for. The judiciary is no exception.”

Our Constitution is a guarantor of that, in fact. But over the last eight years, that spirit of the Constitution and the Indian ethos which the CJI mentioned is being violated with impunity by the ruling government at the Centre led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The right is being wronged and the level playing field in a democracy for the political parties is being dismantled.

The country has entered a period where even the basic rights of the citizens are being denied as has also been alleged by former Supreme Court judge Justice B. N. Srikrishna in a recent interview.

The Supreme Court has kept many crucial petitions pending in the recent months, including petitions concerning the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) and the electoral bonds scheme which are both yet to get its final consideration.

The apex court recently endorsed the PMLA as such even though it admitted a petition asking for a review of the verdict. This is of crucial importance since these provisions are being exploited by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) to harass the political rivals of the present ruling elite.

The PMLA had been enacted first by the Atal Behari Vajpayee government in 2002 during its first full time tenure and subsequently amended by the UPA government in 2012, but both the regimes launched investigations with great caution. Between 2002 and 2014, the Enforcement Directorate lodged only 112 cases in all and made an equal number of searches.

But things took a bizarre turn after 2014 when Narendra Modi became the Prime Minister. In less than eight years between June 2014 and the end of March 2022, the Enforcement Directorate launched 5,310 cases, conducted 3086 searches, attached Rs 104,702 crore (1.4 trillion) worth of assets (calling these the “proceeds of crime”) and filed 880 charge sheets. It is a different matter that it secured only 23 convictions.

The Modi government then brought about some amendments to give extraordinary powers to the ED officials.

During the current regime, PMLA has been used with the deliberate purpose of weakening the political opponents on the one hand and impart fright among the industrialists and businessmen on the other so that they only donated funds to the ruling party. A sort of ‘ED terror’ has been in force in the corporate world so that only the BJP secures all the money to enable it to steamroll the Opposition parties during the election process.

In the past three years since 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the BJP government has relied heavily on the ED’s powers under PMLA to break the Opposition’s alliance governments The agency has been used indiscriminately against the Opposition leaders in West Bengal, Assam, Bihar, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Jharkhand.

At the same time, no BJP leader has been investigated despite public awareness of big-ticket corruption by many of them. Crores are being spent by the BJP to try and buy Opposition legislators to destabilise the non-BJP governments.

Under the PMLA, the Enforcement Directorate has powers to summon anyone from anywhere in the country for interrogation without having to give a reason, record everything they say without a defence lawyer being present and use even minor discrepancies in their statements as grounds for arresting them.

Apart from the review of the provisions of extraordinary powers given to the ED under PMLA, the pending petition challenging the Electoral Bonds Act, 2018 needs immediate hearing by the Supreme Court.

Earlier, Justice N V Ramana during his tenure as CJI had expressed concern about the misuse of electoral bonds but dismissed a petition to stay the fresh sale of the bonds which only fattens the coffers of the BJP.

Many states are due to see Assembly elections by 2022 end and also in 2023, and the next Lok Sabha elections are likely to be held in March/April 2024.

The BJP has taken full advantage of the sale of the bonds which totally dismantles the level playing field in any elections. The functioning of democracy in the states in India as also at the Centre is clearly under threat due to this unethical use of money power.

It now depends on the new CJI to uphold the dictum ‘whatever is right, shall prevail’ by giving urgent attention to both the issues and set the wrongs into right.

(IPA Service)

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