Electoral bonds: SC’s ‘who paid whom’ order has India Inc in a tense huddle

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On Monday, the Supreme Court refused a hearing on unlisted pleas of industry bodies, Associated Chambers of Commerce & Industry of India (ASSOCHAM) and Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) against the disclosure of bond details. 

In a stinging rebuke to the State Bank of India, the top court directed the lender to stop being “selective” and make a “complete disclosure” of all details on the now-scrapped electoral bonds scheme by March 21. 

The details to be disclosed include the unique bond numbers that will reveal the link between buyers and recipient political parties.

“…it is imperative to recognise the potential adverse impact of mandating parties to breach confidentiality agreements and disclose information based on a new standard. Such a directive, if applied retrospectively, undermines the rule of law and presents grave implications for the industry’s interests,” Assocham said in its plea which was turned down by the court.

Assocham, the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (Ficci) and the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) had moved the SC “opposing the limited directions passed by this Hon’ble Court pertaining to disclosure of the alpha-numeric numbers of the electoral bond.”

Appearing on their behalf, senior Advocate Mukul Rohatgi said businesses had purchased bonds under a specific government scheme. Since the bond scheme promised anonymity, disclosures would impact industry players. The industry representatives highlighted concerns that disclosures of who donated to which party could impact perception.

Not ordering disclosure of details of electoral bonds prior to April 12, 2019 was a “conscious choice” by the Constitution bench, the Supreme Court said while refusing to entertain the submissions of ASSOCHAM and CII against the disclosure of bond details on the ground of their plea not being listed. 

“We can’t make an exception for you, what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander”.

An Indian Express report stated 333 individuals bought bonds amounting to ₹358.91 crore between April 2019 and January 2024, among these, 15 notable figures, accounted for ₹158.65 crore or 44.2% of the total. Some of the names include Lakshmi Niwas Mittal (ArcelorMittal): ₹35 crore, Laxmidas Vallabhdas Merchant: ₹25 crore, Rahul Bhatia (IndiGo): ₹20 crore, Inder Thakurdas Jaisinghani (Polycab Group of Companies): ₹14 crore, Rajesh Mannalal Agarwal (Ajanta Pharma Limited): ₹13 crore, Harmesh Rahul Joshi & Rahul Jagannath Joshi (Om Freight Group of companies): ₹10 crore each, Kiran Mazumdar Shaw (Biocon): ₹6 crore, Indrani Patnaik: ₹5 crore, Sudhakar Kancharla (Yoda Group): ₹5 crore, Abhrajit Mitra (Searock Infraproject Private Limited): ₹4.25 crore, Sarojit Kumar Dey (JD Agro Development Private Limited): ₹3.4 crore, Dilip Ramanlal Thacker (Samudra Real Estate Private Limited; Jade Minerals & Mines Private Limited): ₹3 crore, Prakash Balwant Mengane (Shreenath Stapatya India Private Limited): ₹3 crore, Nirmal Kumar Bathwal (Penguin Trading & Agencies Limited): ₹2 crore.

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