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'Corporate electoral bond donors' names shouldn't be disclosed'

March 14, 2024 20:29 IST
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'Corporates who donated to political parties were guaranteed by the electoral bond scheme that their names and to who they were donating funds will be not disclosed.'

IMAGE: A five-judge Constitution bench comprising Chief Justice Dr D Y Chandrachud, Justices Sanjiv Khanna, B R Gavai, J B Pardiwala and Manoj Misra on February 15, 2024, pronounced the electoral bond scheme as unconstitutional and ordered the State Bank of India to furnish the details of buyers and encashers of electoral bonds with the Election Commission of India by March 6, 2023.
A day before this deadline, SBI petitioned the apex court asking for 136 days to furnish these details but this plea was rejected by the SC. Photograph: ANI Photo

Supreme Court Bar Association president advocate Adish C Aggarwala explains to Prasanna D Zore/ as to why he sought a presidential reference of the Supreme Court's judgment on electoral bond scheme delivered on February 15, 2024.

As per this order the State Bank of India has already complied and submitted a pen drive with details of who purchased the electoral bonds to the Election Commission of India, which will be making this list public on its website by the evening of March 15.

Why did you seek a presidential reference for non-disclosure of electoral bond details?

My point is very short and concerns a question of law. When the court has directed that the names of the donors and the recipients should be made public, the court has not framed any question of law to that effect.

Ideally, before the Constitution bench, there should be a question of law. And this should be discussed and while doing so the affected parties should be made party to the discussion (legal arguments) and issued notice.

I'm not on (why the Supreme Court ordered) quashing of this scheme. I am not challenging the SC order that electoral bonds are unconstitutional.

I am only saying that these corporates who donated to political parties were guaranteed by the electoral bond scheme that their names and to who they were donating funds will be not disclosed.

That is being disclosed (because of the SC order of February 15, 2024).

But when the Supreme Court was hearing the matter since 2019 onwards, it had asked the State Bank of India to keep these details handy. And corporates knew at that time that these details could be disclosed...

Whatever the judgment of the Supreme Court, they (the corporates) will have to abide by that (now). If the court expects that the whole world is observing and leaving their work to watch the proceedings, then this is not the way how court proceedings work.

Didn't the Supreme Court say that SBI has to maintain this record and whenever a final judgment comes in this matter SBI, depending on what the judgment is, will have to abide by that judgment?

I'm not disputing regarding (Supreme Court's) direction to SBI.

Suppose I'm a corporate entity. I have given Rs 1000 crore to the BJP. So I have given this amount in a situation when I was aware that this donation will be not known to anyone.

It was this scheme and this honourable Supreme Court has quashed this (declared electoral bonds unconstitutional and directed SBI to share details of who gave donations and who received them). The people of India have the right to know about these public things. The Supreme Court is right to that effect.

We welcome the quashing of this (electoral bonds). There should be transparency (in electoral funding).

People should know the facts -- who has paid to whom?

But I am seeing what is the future of corporate entities when BJP will come to know that so-and-so corporate entity, having headquarters in Gurgaon has donated to TMC (Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool Congress)?

But didn't BJP have this data already?

I'm not on that. I am not on that. I'm saying you are depriving those corporate companies (anonymity) who have donated under this (electoral bond scheme).

Suppose four people have been selected for some posts. If five other people say that those appointments are wrong and instead of them we should be appointed. Then before hearing their plea the courts should not decide.

In the similar manner, the corporates whose identities will be revealed due to these details, and who have been guaranteed anonymity by law, have had no say in this ruling.

But none of the corporates have filed a petition in the Supreme Court objecting to their identities being revealed?

You see, we are public spirited people. It is not that they (the corporates) could have filed (the plea in Supreme Court).

What's the reason behind you seeking a presidential reference then?

Because the Supreme Court being the highest court of the country should act in accordance with law.

Are you saying that Supreme Court by asking State Bank of India to reveal the name of the corporates is not acting in accordance with the law?

(The corporates did not get any) opportunity of being heard. When the corporate entities gave these donations that time the scheme was that this information would be not revealed.

But didn't those corporates also know that these rules could get changed if the Supreme Court were to rule against electoral bonds which it did?

No, because the matter was (then) pending in the Supreme Court. Supreme Court had not changed the rule then. It is only now that the Supreme Court quashed the electoral bond scheme as unconstitutional. This is against the spirit of the Constitution.

What did you not approve in the Supreme Court judgment of February 15, 2024?

This is a welcome step. What I am objecting to is that the names of the corporates should not be made public. Not only their names but also the how much money they donated.

Let me share a real problem. Suppose I'm a corporate entity having headquarters in Gurgaon, Haryana, which is a BJP-ruled state, and I have given donation to say the TMC in West Bengal. Now, if the BJP comes to know of this donation then it can go to the corporate and tell them look, you have given Rs 100 crore to Mamata Banerjee but gave us only Rs 5 crore.

The BJP will take revenge on the corporates. Please take this strictly as an example.

What has happened to your presidential reference? What happens to it?

Yesterday (on March 12) we have sent it. I have not inquired about it because the President of India acts under the advice of the council of ministers. The secretary must have sent it to, say, home ministry or law ministry for their advice.

Your colleagues from the Supreme Court Bar Association have objected to your letter to the President of India as president of the SCBA?

I have the highest respect for the judiciary. I being the president of Supreme Court Bar association signed this letter to the President of India as the president of SCBA.

I have not sent this letter on their behalf but as the president of Supreme Court Bar Association. I have not even used the letterhead of the SCBA because I know my colleagues are not aware of the legal position. I have not written this letter on behalf of the executive committee. I have written it on the letterhead of the All India Bar Association, of which I am the chairman.

So this letter has got nothing to do with the SCBA.

I have written in my individual capacity, as the president of the SCBA and not on behalf of the executive committee (of the SCBA).

What happens to your letter seeking presidential reference after March 15 when the data will be out on the website of Election commission?

This is a question of law. This has to be settled by the Supreme Court themselves. Whether they have the power to pass any order without giving notice to the affected persons can be only settled after the affected people (the corporates) also get to have their say in the matter.

That is my basic premise (for seeking the presidential reference).

The affected persons here are the corporates, who donated to political parties all the while being guaranteed by a law to that effect. These donations were made assuming that their identities will never be revealed.

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