The Supreme Court on Friday directed all political parties to furnish details of donations received via electoral bonds, a contention opposed by the Centre, but the court reaffirmed that "government must be allowed a free hand to implement the measure in execution of policies framed".
The government argued that the court should not interfere in the electoral bond scheme for political funding.
In its interim order, the apex court declined stay on the electoral bonds and directed all political parties to come clean on the contributions received through the bonds and provide full details of all their donors, in a sealed cover, to the Election Commission before May 30.
The information will remain in the ECI custody.
The Election Commission told the court that it did not oppose the bonds, but was against the anonymity associated with it.
The poll panel told the court that the right to vote meant the right to make an informed choice, and that meant that voters should know the source of funding of political parties whose candidates were seeking their vote.
The court said: "All that we would like to state for the present is that the rival contentions give rise to weighty issues which have a tremendous bearing on the sanctity of the electoral process in the country." The court observed that political parties make a clean slate of contributions received from their donors.
Advocate Prashant Bhushan, counsel for the petitioner NGO Association of Democratic Reforms, had told the court that the ruling party had received 95 per cent of the payments through electoral bonds. The Election Commission on Thursday informed the court that the ruling party received a major share of the contributions via electoral bonds.
The government submitted that voters do not need to know the source of funding to political parties. Attorney General K.K. Venugopal told the court that it cannot kill the scheme in the name of transparency, as it is in experimental stage.
The ECI argued on the contraray that "it is more important to know the principal than the agent. The Attorney General countered this and opposed the Election Commission's view.
The court documented ECI's recommendation that there is a necessity to finetune the amendments in the Income Tax Act and the Representation of the People Act, to incorporate the scheme of electoral bonds. The ECI cited its written communication on the same to the Law Ministry.
The ECI informed the court that the Finance Act, 2017, the corresponding Income Tax Act, and the Companies Act, will have a serious impact on the transparency aspect of political financing.
Electoral bonds under this Scheme shall be available for purchase by any person for a period of ten days each in the months of January, April, July and October as may be specified by the Central Government.
"The total period, therefore, allowable for the month of January (10 days), April (10 days) and 30 days for the election year would be 50 whereas the Schedule contemplates issuance of bonds for a total period of 55 days i.e. 45 days plus 10 days of January" said the court.
The court directed the Ministry of Finance to reduce the availability of the bonds by five days.
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