The Problem With the Supreme Court Order on Electoral Bonds
Welcome to another edition of The Big Story podcast.
On 12 April, the Supreme Court refused to grant a stay on the controversial Electoral Bonds scheme, which allows individuals and companies to anonymously donate money to political parties.
We’ll be joined by two people on this podcast. The first, The Quint’s Poonam Agarwal who broke the story about how electoral bonds have hidden codes on them that allow parties to find out who makes a donation, as well as our legal editor Vakasha Sachdev who’ll help explain the legalities of the story.
Who funds the party you support?
Who’s paying the bills for the big shots who lead us?
The answers to these questions lie in the Electoral Bonds scheme. Listen to the podcast here.
The Supreme Court refused to stay the sale of Electoral bonds, and instead the Court has directed all political parties to disclose the details of all donations they’ve received through electoral bonds to the Election Commission.
The parties have till 30 May to disclose the details of donations to the Election Commission.
First off, a quick reminder, in case you missed our previous podcast on the problem with the Modi government’s Electoral bonds scheme.
The scheme has come under heavy criticism from activists, former election commissioners as well as the Election Commission itself. The EC, in fact, wrote to the Law Ministry when the scheme was introduced under the 2017 Finance Bill, saying that this scheme would make election funding, a subject that’s already on shaky ground in India, more opaque.
To add to this already questionable set of facts, The Quint’s Poonam Agarwal had broken the story about how electoral bonds, while they were supposed to ensure anonymity, actually had hidden alphanumeric code which allowed parties to track the bonds. The report, in fact, was used as evidence by the petitioners in this case.
‘I bought a Rs 1,000 bond and we gave it for forensic analysis. Forensics discovered a hidden alphanumeric number on the top right of the bond, that’s only visible under UV light. It’s hidden to the naked eye. We did the same purchase and forensic analysis, with another bond. Both the bonds had different, unique numbers.’Poonam Agarwal, Associate Editor, The Quint
Now, given the importance of addressing the problems with the electoral bonds scheme, the Supreme Court’s order – which says parties must disclose all details of donations by 30 May, and little else, brings a HOST of problems with it. What are these problems? Our in-house legal expert, Vakasha Sachdev, explains.
‘The whole point of these bonds is that they are anonymous. There is nothing on the bond to show who has bought it, and as bearer instruments, anyone could presumably hand it over to the political party. Parties can claim ignorance about who the actual donor, ie the person who bought the bond, is.’Vakasha Sachdev, Legal Editor, The Quint
Further, Vakasha adds that the Court directing the submission of these details in a sealed letter, makes the whole exchange even less transparent, thereby making the point of the whole exercise, moot.
‘This defeats the whole purpose of transparency in political funding, which is to let voters know who is funding political parties and candidates, so that they can properly exercise their right to vote, and their freedom of expression. This is the crux of the argument against electoral bonds, but is lost thanks to the usage of the sealed cover.’Vakasha Sachdev, Legal Editor, The Quint
So can the petitioners do anything at this point? Not really, no. Perhaps argue the case at a later stage and hope this ends with an amicable resolution.