Breaking News: Supreme Court Strikes Down Electoral Bonds in India

Summary

The Supreme Court of India has recently declared electoral bonds unconstitutional, settling a long-standing issue between the government and opposition parties. Electoral bonds were introduced in the 2017 budget to address concerns about transparency in political funding. However, the court unanimously ruled that these bonds violated the right to information and were thus unconstitutional. The State Bank of India (SBI) was responsible for selling these bonds anonymously, allowing individuals and companies to donate to political parties without disclosing their identities. Since 2018, approximately 16,000 crore rupees (around $1.9 billion) has been raised through electoral bonds, with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) receiving 60% of the funds. The opposition Congress party received 10% of the funds. This landmark decision raises questions about the future of political funding in India, especially with the upcoming general elections.

What are Electoral Bonds?

Electoral bonds were introduced in the 2017 budget as a means to address the lack of transparency in political funding. The government claimed that these bonds would help curb the influx of black money into political campaigns. Individuals and companies could purchase these bonds in various denominations, ranging from 1,000 rupees to 1 crore rupees, from branches of the State Bank of India (SBI) across the country. The unique feature of these bonds was that the donor’s name and details remained anonymous. Once purchased, the amount was deposited into the political party’s account within 15 days.

Why Did Opposition Parties Oppose Electoral Bonds?

Opposition parties had several concerns regarding electoral bonds. Firstly, there was no limit on the amount of money that could be donated, allowing companies to contribute substantial sums. Many parties felt that this undermined the democratic process and gave undue influence to big corporations. Secondly, the opposition raised concerns about the SBI’s involvement in selling these bonds. Since the SBI is a state-run bank, they argued that the ruling party could access donor information, potentially leading to favoritism or policy decisions influenced by major donors.

Supreme Court’s Ruling: Violation of the Right to Information

The Supreme Court’s decision to strike down electoral bonds stemmed from petitions arguing that these bonds violated the fundamental right to information in India. Voters had no means of knowing who donated to which party and how much money was involved. The government, on the other hand, contended that electoral bonds were necessary to curb black money and protect donor privacy. However, the court rejected these arguments, emphasizing the importance of transparency and the right to information in a democratic society.

What Happens Next?

The Supreme Court has issued orders to the State Bank of India (SBI) and the Election Commission. The SBI must provide the Election Commission with donor details, including the date of bond purchase, the name of the buyer, the amount, and the political party that received the funds. The Election Commission will then publish all these details. This transparency initiative aims to inform voters and promote accountability among political parties. The deadline for the publication of these details is before March 13th, just weeks away from the upcoming general elections.

Impact on Political Funding

With electoral bonds being declared unconstitutional, the rules for political funding have changed. In the absence of these bonds, all donations above 20,000 rupees must be declared. Additionally, a donation cap has been reinstated, limiting companies to contribute up to 7.5% of their average profits. It is crucial to note that political funding regulations vary among countries. For instance, in the UK, there are limits on individual candidate donations, while political parties have no restrictions. In the US, both individual candidate and party donations are allowed, with higher limits, and the existence of super PACs, which indirectly fund campaigns. In Germany, only party donations are permitted, and any donation exceeding a specific amount must be disclosed. Each country’s system has its own strengths and weaknesses, and it is the responsibility of politicians to strive for transparency and fairness in political funding.

Conclusion

The Supreme Court’s decision to strike down electoral bonds in India marks a significant milestone in the country’s political landscape. This ruling emphasizes the importance of transparency and the right to information in political funding. The government’s efforts to curb black money and protect donor privacy were deemed insufficient to justify the lack of transparency associated with electoral bonds. As the nation approaches the upcoming general elections, the focus will now shift towards ensuring fair and transparent political funding. It is crucial for politicians to strive for a system that promotes accountability, reduces the influence of money in politics, and upholds the principles of democracy.

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Indranil Ghosh

Indranil Ghosh

Articles: 249

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