While hearing arguments against the Electoral Bond programme in New Delhi, India’s Chief Justice, D. Y. Chandrachud, stated that corporations were previously only allowed to donate 7.5% of their entire income and were required to disclose this information.
He went on to say that if the transaction was revealed to the public, it would be subject to examination over whether or not it was a quid pro quo.
Prior to the introduction of Electoral Bonds, “the old regime” allowed for corporate donations as well. However, it only amounted to 7.5% of the overall earnings. You had to come clean, which was the key difference. The CJI, listening to senior attorney Prashant Bhushan’s argument, commented that transparency would allow the public to scrutinise whether or not this was indeed a quid pro quo.
Bhushan, who was defending ADR, had contended before the court that the electoral bonds were privileging the governing party and further skewing the equal playing field. He said that individual candidates and minor parties who get less than 1% of the vote are not eligible to acquire these bonds.
At this point, the CJI pointed out to Bhushan that this technique anonymized contributions with reference to the rest of society and not the donee.
“Another thing you may look into is the fact that the donor is not being kept secret. It’s anonymized with respect to the rest of society. The recipient of the gift may or may not be aware of the donors.
Bhushan’s response was that anonymous contributions really help spread corruption. He also contended before the court that the right to a corruption-free society is guaranteed by Article 21 of the Constitution.
However, Justice Sanjiv Khanna pointed out that this pattern of disproportionate support for the governing party existed even during the previous rule. Bhushan concurred, but clarified that the issue at hand involves kickbacks.
“In the past, if you donated to a political party and the party returned the favour by doing something for you, you may face corruption charges. But now, since no one will know as to who has given, if you’ve gotten quid pro quo, it is fostering corruption.”
The CJI further added that in the case of a firm, now even shareholders will not be notified who they’re giving to, and they will simply receive the outcome that the company has contributed Rs 250 crore.
Kapil Sibal, a senior counsel, began his case by arguing that money and power go hand in hand. He argued that all candidates should be given a fair chance in the election process.
Sibal said that the shareholders of a firm put in their money to guarantee that the organisation runs within the boundaries of the MoU. When a firm makes a contribution to electoral bonds, it does not disclose that fact to its stockholders.
Sibal said that the contributions are unrelated to electoral bonds since the party is free to use the money however it sees fit.
Nothing in the programme links donor contributions to voter turnout or engagement. It’s a mechanism for political parties to get wealthier,” he stated.
The CJI then questioned whether or not there was a minimum expenditure need. And Sibal chimed in, “None!” But this cash is yours to spend as you like. You may construct your workplace. A nationwide internet infrastructure is within your reach.
He further informed the court that the political party may cancel the account whenever it sees fit. He also stated before the court that this is a strategy to safeguard criminals from being convicted.
Section 7 of the Anti-Corruption Act states, “Please read this. The PMLA is just as applicable here. A predicate crime has been committed, but there are no ill-gotten gains to be found. No one ever finds out who bribed whom, how much was paid, or what was exchanged.
He also claimed that the business sector that doesn’t vote may contribute Rs 10 crore and not reveal it, but a citizen’s identity would be exposed.
“So is the corporate sector being granted the privilege of anonymity over the citizen?” he said.