Business Standard

Banking norms may shield info on electoral bond buyers

Govt unlikely to issue Ordinance

- INDIVJAL DHASMANA & ARCHIS MOHAN

While the Supreme Court has asked State Bank of India (SBI) to disclose complete details on electoral bonds issued since 2018, banking norms may come in the way of revealing the names of the buyers of these papers, sources said.

To a query whether executing the Supreme Court verdict would not lead to a breach of promise the government made to the bond holders that their names would be kept secret, sources said it would indeed be so. They also said the government was unlikely to bring in an ordinance to address the developmen­ts arising out of the Supreme Court order, considerin­g the 17th Lok Sabha had concluded its last session and the Lok Sabha polls were imminent.

Sources said the verdict would bring back the days of black money in funding political parties. Those who have black money will survive, they said. “This would bring back the bad old days,” one of them said.

The electoral bond scheme, notified in 2018, was not perfect but an improvemen­t on funding practices prevailing then, according to them. The SC could have said this scheme was a step ahead of the practices then and needed further improvemen­t, but electoral reform now has received a setback. Sources said it was difficult to reveal the names of bond buyers that time because it would have led to harassment at local levels.

When asked whether the government would file a review petition in the Supreme Court, they said those who were filing PIL (public interest litigation) petitions should come forward and do so. Jagdeep Chhokar, founder of the Associatio­n for Democratic Reforms (ADR), the lead petitioner in the case, said relevant laws amended to introduce the scheme had been struck down by the Supreme Court and hiding behind banking practices made no sense. All those provisions, be it in the Companies Act, the Representa­tion of the People Act, or the Income Tax Act, have been declared unconstitu­tional by the apex court, he pointed out. Sanjay Hegde, a senior advocate who was a petitioner against the scheme in the Supreme Court, said once the court had struck down various amendments to the pieces of legislatio­n enacted to introduce the scheme, one could not invoke banking practices.

The order has to be obeyed, he said.

He said black money existed before the scheme as well as after the scheme was introduced. Those who did not pay taxes, such as loss-making companies, were also eligible to participat­e in it. To say that it prevented black money in funding elections is misleading, he said.

Chhokar said it would be vital to track the patterns of quid pro quos when the SBI shared the data with the Election Commission.

“How difficult or easy it is to identify quid pro quos would depend on what kind of data comes out,” he said. However, there is no data to show if a bond changes hands, the person who purchases the bond can be held to some degree of accountabi­lity.

Constituti­onal expert and former Lok Sabha secretary general P D T Achary told Business Standard technicall­y the Centre could bring in an ordinance and subsequent­ly convene Parliament for a day to pass a Bill. “But all of this is in the realm of conjecture. The government, if it follows this course, would need to find new legal grounds for denying the informatio­n since the Supreme Court said the scheme violated a fundamenta­l right (Article 19 (1) (a),” he said.

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