The Supreme Court today agreed to return the original documents to the Election Commission of India by tomorrow (March 16), 5 pm in the Electoral Bonds case.

The Court was hearing an Application filed by the Election Commission of India (ECI) seeking modification of the operative portion of its March 11, 2024, order in the electoral bonds case.

ECI in its application has stated that the order had noted that copies of the documents submitted by it to the Apex Court in sealed cover during the course of hearing be maintained at the office of the Election Commission. The EC has also said it did not keep any copies of the documents and added that they may be returned so that it can comply with the Court directions.

The Bench headed by Chief Justice of DY Chandrachud also comprising Justice Sanjiv Khanna, Justice BR Gavai, Justice JB Pardiwala, and Justice Manoj Misra issued notice to SBI for the non-disclosure of Electoral Bond numbers.

"In our judgment we had directed, disclosure specifically of all details of the bonds, including the purchaser, the amount, the date of purchase. They(SBI) have not disclosed the bond numbers, that has to be disclosed by them. All details have to be furnished by the SBI," the Court said.

At the outset, the CJI asked the ECI, "You would have retained a copy when submitted in the Court."

To this, Advocate Amit Sharma, appearing for the ECI, submitted, "This was supposed to be in sealed cover, taking the information from the polictical party. So, we just submitted, as it is we got. My Lord! So, the entire data is with this honb'le Court."

Then, the CJI said that the originals will be returned to the ECI after the documents are scanned and digitalized.

"On 11th March 2024, this Court had directed that the Election Commission of India (ECI) shall upload on its website the data that was furnished to this Court, which was being maintained in the custody of this Court. While issuing this direction, the Court will presume that the copy of the data which was lodged before the Registry of this Court would be availble with the ECI," the Court noted.

It also noted that the Counsel for ECI submitted that it is a matter of fact that the ECI did not retain any copy of the data which was collated by since it was being placed before this court in sealed custody. "The request therefore, that the data which was being filed in this Court may be returned to it so as to enable it comply with the Order of this Court for uploading all the documents. This request of ECI has not been opposed either by Mr. Kapil Sibal, Senior Counsel, Mr. Prashant Bhushan, Learned Counsel," the Bench said.

Accordingly, the Court issued a slew of directions:

1. The Registrar judicial of this Court shall ensure that the data which was being filed by the ECI in pursuance of the interim Orders of this Court is scanned and digitalised. Upon the process being completed, this may be preferably carried out by 5pm tomorrow.

2. Once the above exercise is completed, the original shall be returned to Advocate Amit Sharma, appearing for the ECI. Then the ECI can upload the data within a period on or before day after.

3. A copy of the scanned and digitalized file shall also be made available to Amit Sharma.

Accordingly, the Court listed the matter for further consideration on Monday (March 18).

On March 13, the State Bank of India (SBI) had filed an Affidavit before the Court stating that it had disclosed information regarding the acquisition and redemption of electoral bonds up to February 15, 2024. The Affidavit had been filed in compliance with the order dated March 11, 2024, a day after it sent all details of electoral bonds to the ECI as directed by the Apex Court.

The SBI had filed the electoral bond data after the Apex Court rejected its plea seeking an extension of time to disclose the details.

While dismissing the application for extension of time by the SBI, the Bench had held that the details of purchased Bonds are "readily available". The Court had also held that information about Electoral Bonds is stored only in 29 branches which can easily be accessed.

Accordingly, the Court had directed SBI to disclose the information by the end of business hours on March 12. It had also directed ECI to publish the information by March 15 by 5 pm. The Court had said that it will consider contempt petitions if the latest directions are not complied with.

The 5-Judge Constitutional Bench, while pronouncing the judgment on February 15, 2023, in the batch of four pleas, including those filed by Congress leader Jaya Thakur and the CPI(M) had directed: "SBI shall submit the above information to the ECI within 3 weeks from the date of this judgment, i.e. March 6, 2024."

In the Judgment, there are two opinions of the Court, one by CJI himself and Justice Gavai, Justice Pardiwala and Justice Misra and another authored by Justice Khanna. However, both arrive at the same conclusion with slight variance in reasoning.The Court had also passed other directions. The Bench had further held that the unlimited contribution by companies is unconstitutional and is manifestly arbitrary as "companies have a much greater influence on political parties than individuals. As individuals have a degree of support or affiliation to a political association. However, purely business transactions made with the intent to secure benefits in return".

The scheme, which was notified by the government on January 2, 2018, was pitched as an alternative to cash donations made to political parties as part of efforts to bring in transparency in political funding. According to the provisions of the scheme, electoral bonds may be purchased by any citizen of India or entity incorporated or established in India. An individual can buy electoral bonds, either singly or jointly with other individuals.

Cause Title: Association For Democratic Reforms and Anr. v. Union Of India And Ors. & Connected Matters (Neutral Citation: 2024 INSC 209)

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