Requests for separate hearings on electoral bonds, FCRA reforms, and RTI requests about political parties SC

Requests for separate hearings on electoral bonds, FCRA reforms, and RTI requests about political parties SC

The Supreme Court said on Tuesday that it would hold separate hearings on petitions challenging changes to the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act, the electoral bonds program, and placing political parties within the purview of the Right to Information Act.

The petitions raise three distinct concerns, hence a bench made up of Chief Justice of India D Y Chandrachud and Justice P S Narasimha decided that they should be heard individually.

The regulations allowing political parties to receive funds via the electoral bond program are challenged in one set of petitions, while the Right to Information Act's transparency provisions are sought to apply to political parties in the second set.

The Foreign Contribution Regulation Act, 2010 change made by the Central government via the Finance Acts of 2016 and 2018 is challenged in the third batch of PILs. Political parties may reportedly accept foreign contributions under the modified FCRA.

"Regarding the aforementioned three issues, the petitions in the current batch are divided. Separate hearings must be held for each of the three sets of petitions "The bench ordered in its ruling.

The court further requested that the Centre submit its reply to a number of petitions, including older ones. According to the announcement, the petitions opposing the electoral bond program will be considered in the third week of March, while the petitions requesting that political parties be subject to the RTI will be heard in the first week of April.

The CJI said that the third batch pertaining to the FCRA Amendments will be heard in the middle of April. On Tuesday, hearing dates for up to seven petitions, including the one submitted by the NGO "Association for Democratic Reforms."

The top court has previously said that it will hear a group of PILs contesting legislation allowing financing of political parties under the electoral bond program in the last week of January 2023.

As part of attempts to increase openness in political fundraising, electoral bonds have been proposed as an alternative to financial contributions given to political parties.

Attorney Prashant Bhushan said that there are various constitutional issues raised by the petitions that have an impact on the integrity of the election process on behalf of PIL petitioner NGO "Association for Democratic Reforms." He had said that it may be examined first as to whether the matter should be referred to a Constitution bench.

Prior to this, Bhushan had asked the Supreme Court to list the PIL on an urgent basis and to order the Centre to refrain from opening any additional windows for the sale of electoral bonds while the case involving the funding of political parties and the alleged lack of transparency in their bank accounts was pending.

Before the assembly elections in West Bengal and Assam in March 2021, the NGO, which had filed the PIL on the matter of alleged corruption and subversion of democracy through illicit and foreign funding of political parties and lack of transparency in all political parties' bank accounts, had moved an interim application, asking that the sale of electoral bonds not be reopened.

On January 20, 2020, the Supreme Court rejected an NGO's request for an interim suspension of the 2018 Electoral Bonds Scheme and requested comments from the Centre and the Election Commission.

On January 2, 2018, the government announced the Electoral Bond Scheme.

Election bonds may be acquired in accordance with the scheme's regulations by individuals who are Indian citizens, companies incorporated or founded in India, or both. A person may purchase electoral bonds on their own or in a group with other people.

Election bonds may only be received by political parties that are registered under Section 29A of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, and that received at least 1% of the vote in the most recent general election for the Lok Sabha or the state's Legislative Assembly.

The notice states that an eligible political party may only redeem electoral bonds via an account with a licensed bank.

The Supreme Court likewise rejected to block the Electoral Bond Scheme in April 2019 and said that it will give the appeals a thorough hearing since the Center and the EC cited "weighty arguments" that "have huge influence on the integrity of the electoral process in the nation."

The government wanted to retain the contributors' anonymity, while the poll panel argued for disclosing their identities for the purpose of openness. The Center and the EC have previously taken opposing positions in court over political finance.