The Supreme Court Monday refused to grant interim stay on the 2018 Electoral Bonds Scheme, meant for funding political parties, ahead of the Delhi Assembly polls.
The top court however sought response of the Centre and the Election Commission within two weeks on the interim application filed by an NGO, 'Association for Democratic Reforms', for staying the scheme.
"Two weeks' time is granted to the respondents (Centre and the EC) to file counter affidavits. List thereafter," said the bench comprising Chief Justice S A Bobde and Justices B R Gavai and Surya Kant.
Lawyer Prashant Bhushan, appearing for the NGO, alleged that the scheme is a means for channelising unaccounted black money in favour of the ruling party and sought interim stay on it on the ground that it would be misused ahead of Delhi assembly polls.
"A stay was not given by this court before. So we may not do it now", the bench said, adding that it would hear the plea after two weeks.
Bhushan argued that alarming facts have come to light about the scheme, which was meant only for Lok Sabha polls. "This scheme has been illegally restarted before the assembly elections. Thousands of crores of rupees of illegal funds and bribes will come to the pockets of the ruling party." Bhushan also referred to a document of the RBI while seeking stay of the scheme.
Senior advocate Rakesh Dwivedi, appearing for the EC, said all these arguments have already been advanced earlier and sought four week to reply to the plea of the NGO against the scheme.
The government has opened sale of electoral bonds for 10 days for the Delhi Assembly election.
The government had notified the Electoral Bond Scheme on January 2, 2018.
As per provisions of the scheme, electoral bonds may be purchased by a person, who is a citizen of India or incorporated or established in India.
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, are eligible to receive electoral bonds.
As per the notification, electoral bonds shall be encashed by an eligible political party only through a bank account with an authorised bank.
In November last year, the NGO had filed in the interim plea, in the pending PIL, seeking a stay on the implementation of Electoral Bond Scheme, 2018,.
It had said that the scheme has opened the floodgates of unlimited corporate donations to political parties and anonymous financing by Indian as well as foreign companies and it can have serious repercussions on democracy in the country.
It had said that certain amendments made in Finance Act, 2017 and earlier Finance Act, 2016, both passed as money bills, have opened doors to unlimited political donations, even from foreign companies and thereby legitimising electoral corruption at a huge scale, while at the same time ensuring complete non-transparency in political funding.
"The Finance Act of 2017 had introduced the use of electoral bonds which is exempt from disclosure under the Representation of Peoples Act, 1951, opening doors to unchecked, unknown funding to political parties.
"The said amendments have also removed the existing cap of 7.5 per cent of net profit in the last three years on campaign donations by companies and have legalised anonymous donations," the NGO had said.
It had said the use of electoral bonds for political donations is a cause for concern because these bonds are in the nature of bearer bonds and the identity of the donor is kept anonymous.
"It is only the general citizens who will not know who is donating to which party. Thus, electoral bonds increase the anonymity of political donations," it had said.
The ADR said that it has already filed a PIL on the issue of corruption and subversion of democracy through illicit and foreign funding of political parties and lack of transparency in the accounts of all political parties.
"The petitioners sought directions from this Court to strike down certain amendments made through Finance Act, 2017 and earlier Finance Act, 2016, both passed as money bills, and which have opened doors to unlimited political donations, even from foreign companies and thereby legitimizing electoral corruption at a huge scale, while at the same time ensuring complete non-transparency in political funding," it had said.
It had added that the scheme has a major negative implication on transparency in political funding and are in violation of citizens' right to information, a fundamental right.