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Citizens don’t have the right to know funding of political parties: Central govt tells Supreme Court

A batch of petitioners wanted all parties to disclose funding, but central govt refused.

In a recent statement submitted to the Supreme Court, India’s Attorney General, R Venkataramani, shared his perspective on the electoral bonds scheme and the citizens’ right to information regarding political party funding. His arguments in this case have implications for the ongoing legal challenge to the electoral bonds scheme.

Attorney General Venkataramani argued that citizens do not have an unlimited right to know everything about political party funding. He stressed the importance of having reasonable restrictions on this right. In other words, he believes that the right to information should have specific and legitimate purposes, rather than being an all-encompassing entitlement.

According to the Attorney General, the right to information is crucial for expression but should be directed towards specific, lawful objectives. In simpler terms, citizens should have access to information that helps them make informed decisions about candidates, ensuring that they elect individuals free from any wrongdoing.

The Attorney General pointed out that previous court judgments regarding citizens’ right to know about the criminal backgrounds of candidates cannot be applied directly to the right to information about political party funding. Those judgments were specific to aiding citizens in making informed electoral choices.

He argued that since there is no explicit right under Article 19(7)(a) of the Constitution, the issue of imposing reasonable restrictions under Article 19(2) doesn’t arise. In simpler terms, if there’s no clearly defined constitutional right, there’s no need to discuss limitations on that right.

These statements were made in response to a group of petitions challenging the amendments made in the 2017 Finance Act, which paved the way for the creation of the electoral bonds scheme. These petitions raised concerns about the anonymity of donors and the potential influence of corporate interests over the needs of the people.

The Attorney General also highlighted the scheme’s positive aspects, such as promoting clean contributions and adherence to tax obligations. He argued that the scheme doesn’t infringe upon existing rights.

The Attorney General emphasized that judicial review isn’t about suggesting better policies but rather about ensuring that state actions don’t violate existing rights. He also stressed that testing a new law should be a subject of public and parliamentary debate rather than being dictated by the courts.

The statement provided background information on the electoral bonds scheme, which was introduced through amendments in various laws, including the Representation of Peoples Act and the Income Tax Act. The scheme allows donors to purchase bonds anonymously, and political parties are not required to disclose the source of these bonds to the Election Commission of India.

The petitions challenging the scheme were filed by various parties, including the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and NGOs Common Cause and Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR). These parties expressed concerns about the lack of transparency and the potential influence of private corporate interests on political funding.

In March 2019, the Election Commission of India expressed its concerns, calling the electoral bond scheme a “retrograde step” due to its impact on transparency in political funding.

The Supreme Court had previously declined to halt the issuance of electoral bonds before assembly elections in certain states in 2021. In summary, the Attorney General’s statements in the electoral bonds case center around the citizens’ right to information about political party funding. This case is of significant importance and is set to be heard by a Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court.

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