Electoral Bond case: Bhushan in SC brings up lobbying by Vedanta; says donation rose despite financial crunch
He stated the multinational mining company donated Rs 457 crore to political parties through Electoral Bonds over the last five years.
Senior Advocate Prashant Bhushan on Tuesday, 31 October, told the Supreme Court that donations by Vedanta to Electoral Bonds have gone up despite several reports of the company facing financial crunch.
While appearing for the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) PIL challenging the Electoral Bond scheme by the government, Bhushan quoted a news report and said that the multinational mining company donated Rs 457 crore in the last five years to political parties through Electoral Bonds.
"According to a report by Business Standard, Vedanta Ltd, a multinational mining company donated Rs 457 crore in the last five years to political parties through Electoral Bonds...Vedanta's donation in FY23 was Rs 155 crore which was higher than Rs 123 crore donated in FY22."
He further pointed out to the court that in FY23, Vedanta Limited has been declared as the preferred bidder for various mining licences, namely Bicholim iron ore block in Goa, Sijimali bauxite and Ghogharpalli coal blocks in Odisha, and Kelwar Dabri in Chhattisgarh.
Vedanta Resources (VRL), the UK-based parent company of Vedanta, made headlines for $4.2 billion payment dues. However, the company has paid $2 billion of its liabilities until June 2023, and the remaining amount is due on January 21, 2024.
He further said that an investigative report by the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) , a global network of investigative journalists titled 'Inside Indian Energy and Mining Giant Vedanta’s Campaign to Weaken Key Environmental Regulations' revealed backroom lobbying between Vedanta and the Union government.
Bhushan brought this up while arguing that there was circumstantial evidence to suggest that the Electoral Bonds scheme generated kickbacks.
He said in the court that there is circumstantial evidence to prove that there were kickbacks being paid by corporations via electoral bonds to political parties in ruling parties.
The Electoral Bonds, he said, promote corruption because there is good reason to believe that these bonds are being given by way of kickbacks to parties in power.
Almost all bonds have been received by the party in power. "More than 50 per cent have been received only by the ruling party at the Centre and the rest have only been received by the ruling party in States...Not even 1 per cent has been received by opposition parties that aren't ruling in opposition states," Bhushan said in court.
Virtually all bonds have been purchased by corporates saying that nearly 95 per cent are in the denomination of 1 crore and above. He highlighted that the Centre through this scheme has also removed the cap on corporate donations and amended FCRA.
"It destroys and disturbs democracy in the country. Because it does not allow a level playing field between political parties which are ruling versus opposition parties; or between political parties and independent candidates," he said.
Bhushan also cited other individual cases like Vedanta. The CJI, however, observed that perhaps it would be better to keep individual cases out of reckoning as those companies are not before us. So the court will take them as mere illustrations to buttress Bhushan's argument.
The top court is hearing the challenges to the constitutionality of the Electoral Bond scheme.