A day ahead of the Constitution Bench hearing on electoral bonds, the Centre has told the top court that citizens do not have the right to know about the source of funding of political parties. Responding to a bunch of public interest litigations (PILs) that have pressed for a right to have access to details of the contributions to the political parties, the Centre said that there can be no general right to know anything and everything without subject to reasonable restrictions.
Does not fall foul of any existing right: AG
The Supreme Court's judgments on the "right to know" were in the context of making informed choices about electoral candidates and knowing their antecedents, it was pointed out. Defending the electoral bonds scheme, which facilitates anonymous donations to political parties, AG Venkataramani said it does not impinge upon any existing rights and cannot be said to be repugnant to any fundamental rights under Part III of the Constitution.
"The scheme in question extends the benefit of confidentiality to the contributor. It ensures and promotes clean money being contributed. It ensures abiding by tax obligations. Thus, it does not fall foul of any existing right," the AG told the Supreme Court. An electoral bond is an instrument in the nature of a promissory note or bearer bond which can be purchased by any individual, company, firm or association of persons provided the person or body is a citizen of India or incorporated or established in India.
Petitions pending before SC challenging amendments that could have opened doors to unchecked funding of political parties
The bonds, which are in multiple denominations, are issued specifically for the purpose of contributing funds to political parties. Various petitions are pending before the top court challenging at least five amendments made to different statutes through the Finance Act, 2017, on the ground that they have opened doors to unlimited, unchecked funding of political parties. The petitions have also raised the ground that the Finance Act could not have been passed as a money bill.
On October 16, the court referred the matter to a constitution bench of five judges, underscoring that the importance of the matter calls for setting up a larger bench to deliver an authoritative verdict. On a previous date of hearing on October 10, the court fixed October 31 and November 1 to finally hear the matter, clarifying that the arguments will be wrapped up on the two dates being fixed and directed the Centre and other parties to submit their written submissions in the meantime. The assignment of dates for the final hearing has come after a gap of more than two years; the last effective hearing of the matter had taken place in March 2021.
Representation of the People Act, 1951
Only political parties registered under Section 29A of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 and which secured not less than one per cent of votes polled in the last general election to Lok Sabha or the legislative assembly of the state are eligible to receive electoral bonds. According to the notification, electoral bonds shall be encashed by an eligible political party only through an account with an authorised bank.