SC strikes down electoral bonds scheme, terms it unconstitutional

Supreme Court
The Supreme Court on India. Photo: AFP

New Delhi: In a huge sent back to the Narendra Modi-led Union government, the Supreme Court on Thursday struck down the electoral bond scheme, saying it infringes on the the voters' right to information and freedom of speech.
The apex court also termed the scheme, through which foreign and domestic individuals and companies could donate money without revealing their identity, as unconstitutional.

In a landmark judgement that will have wide ramifications, it ordered the State Bank of India (SBI) to disclose to the Election Commission the names of the contributors to the six-year-old scheme.

The five-judge bench comprising Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud, Justices Sanjiv Khanna, B R Gavai, J B Pardiwala and Manoj Misra delivered two separate and unanimous verdicts on the pleas challenging the scheme.

The petitioners -- Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), CPM and Dr Jaya Thakur -- challenged the amendments introduced by the Finance Act 2017 which paved the way for electoral bonds scheme.

Pronouncing the verdict, the CJI said the scheme violated the freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a) of Constitution. The bench said the fundamental right to privacy also includes citizens' right to political privacy and affiliation.

It also held as invalid the amendments made in various laws, including the Representation of Peoples Act, Income Tax laws and the Companies Act. 

It directed the issuing bank to stop issuance of electoral bonds and the SBI, India's largest lender, to submit details of electoral bonds purchased since April 12, 2019 till date to the Election Commission. The top court had on November 2 last reserved its verdict in the matter.

The scheme, which was notified by the government on January 2, 2018, was pitched as an alternative to cash donations made to political parties as part of efforts to bring transparency in political funding. The late finance minister Arun Jaitley, credited for the introduction of the scheme, had defended it saying that bonds were meant to check the use of black money for funding elections. 

According to the provisions of the scheme, electoral bonds may be purchased by any citizen of India or entity incorporated or established in the country. An individual can buy electoral bonds, either singly or jointly with other individuals without disclosing the identity.
(With PTI, Live Law inputs)

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