[Answered] Critically examine the Supreme Court’s judgment on Electoral Bonds in the context of its impact on transparency and accountability in political financing. How does this decision align with the objectives of the Right to Information (RTI) Act?

Introduction: Give a brief context to the question

Body: What is the impact of Judgement on transparency, accountability, and the RTI Act?

Conclusion: Way forward

A recent SC judge gave a unanimous verdict citing the electoral Bonds scheme as “unconstitutional”. SC held that anonymous electoral bonds are violative of the right to information and Article 19(1)(a). The Bench has directed the issuing bank (SBI) to stop the issue of electoral bonds. SBI also needs to submit the details of the electoral bonds purchase to the Election Commission of India (ECI). Through the electoral bonds scheme, individuals and organizations can make anonymous financial contributions to political parties by buying electoral bonds from the SBI.

Impact of SC judgment

  • Transparency: SC held that the voters’ right is breached by the anonymity clause and that information on political parties is essential. Poll bonds are violative of fundamental rights, and infringement of RTI is not justified for curbing black money.
  • Accountability: The opacity surrounding Electoral Bonds also raises questions about accountability in political financing. Without knowing the identity of donors, it becomes challenging to hold political parties accountable for their sources of funding. This lack of accountability undermines the democratic process and weakens public trust in political institutions.
  • Impact on corporations and policy: The electoral bond scheme favour the ruling government of the time, as the guarantee of anonymity would allow the government to provide concessions in the form of licenses, leases, policy changes, and government contracts. The judgment would also impact companies that use “funnel money” to political parties without any oversight from shareholders.

Decision aligns with the RTI Act

  • Freedom of speech and expression: The SC weighed in favour of the RTI Act & upheld Article 19 (1) (a) of the Constitution as against informational privacy in the Electoral Bond case. The Court noted that transparency in political financing is crucial for voters to make informed decisions.
  • Structural issues: The judgement however does not address structural issues in the functioning of the RTI Act like vacancies in Information Commissions, mounting pendency, delayed hearing of second appeals, perceptible opacity, and the casual approach of officers in dealing with RTI queries.
  • Compliance mechanism: The decision offers hardly any hope of clearing backlogs. Compliance with the Commission’s orders saw delays in some cases while probing queries on corruption led to the murder of many RTI activists. The recent change in the status and tenure of Information Commissioners has also affected the functioning of the RTI Act.

Conclusion

The government could frame a committee under the Minister of Personnel, comprising information commissioners, officials, and even civil society members to examine issues and take appropriate measures to overhaul the RTI Act. The recent SC judgment can act as a catalyst in strengthening the RTI Act and restoring it to its past glory.

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