The Supreme Court Friday directed all political parties to provide details of donations received in electoral bonds and the identity of the donors to the Election Commission in a sealed cover by May 30, in an attempt to bring transparency around anonymous poll funding.
Refusing to stay for now the contentious electoral bonds scheme, the court gave the direction in an interim order in the midst of the Lok Sabha polls which began on Thursday and concludes on May 19. The political parties were also directed to give details of the bank account of the donors.
The order was given on a petition filed by an NGO--Association of Democratic Reforms (ADR)--challenging the validity of the scheme and sought a stay on the issuance of electoral bonds or that names of the donors be made public to ensure transparency in the poll process.
The order was welcomed by opposition parties as a step towards bringing transparency to political funding.
A bench comprising Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justices Deepak Gupta and Sanjiv Khanna also rejected the Centre's contention that the apex court should not interfere with the scheme at this stage and examine whether it has worked or not only after the ongoing general elections.
The top court said it would examine in detail the changes made in laws -- Income Tax, electoral and banking -- to bring them in consonance with the electoral bond scheme and ensure the balance does not tilt in favour of any political party.
It also directed the Finance Ministry to reduce the window of purchasing electoral bonds from 10 days to five days in April-May and said it would fix a date later for final disposal of the petition.
The Congress welcomed the court direction, saying the party has always maintained that transparency in political funding and governance must be adhered to.
"Supreme Court demolishes stance taken by Modi, Jaitley & BJP - which had pushed this as a Money bill, for opaque, secret Electoral bonds. The court says transparency is the basic principle of electoral funding. People have a right to know which party got how much, and from whom," Yechury tweeted.
"Anonymity pushed by BJP is on the way out. Donors of black money via this route will be scared to fund from here on. Today EC has the data. Tomorrow the public will also have it," he said in another tweet.
Advocate Prashant Bhushan, who appeared for the petitioner NGO, said the court order was an important step towards bringing transparency. He claimed that the BJP was a major beneficiary of the electoral bond scheme.
The BJP said it will wait for the final judgement and noted that the Centre has already placed its stand before the apex court.
"Whatever is the order of the Supreme Court, it has to be complied with and it is always complied with.
"As far as issues raised by the government is concerned, they have been placed before the court for its consideration. And we will await the final judgement," BJP spokesperson and Supreme Court lawyer Nalin Kohli said.
The Centre and the Election Commission have taken contrary stands in the Supreme Court over political funding with the government wanting to maintain anonymity of donors of electoral bonds and the poll panel batting for revealing names of donors for transparency.
The bench on Thursday said if the identity of the purchasers of electoral bonds meant for transparent political funding was not known, then efforts of the government to curtail black money in elections would be "futile".
The Centre, through Attorney General K K Venugopal, had vehemently supported the scheme, saying the purpose behind it is to eliminate the use of black money in elections and asked the court not to interfere with it at this stage and examine whether it has worked or not only after the elections.
He also said that "transparency cannot be the mantra" and asked why must the voter know the source of political funding.
The government had notified the Electoral Bond Scheme 2018 on January 2, 2018.
A person being an individual can buy electoral bonds, either singly or jointly with other individuals.
Only political parties registered under Section 29A of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 and which secured not less than 1 per cent of votes polled in the last general election to the House of the People or the Legislative Assembly of the State, will be eligible to receive electoral bonds.
The Electoral Bonds had validity of 15 days from the date of issue. No payment was to be made to any payee political party if the bond was deposited after expiry of the validity period. The bond deposited by an eligible political party in its account was to be credited the same day.
(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)