Electoral bonds junked: consequences for donor companies

– Payal Agarwal, Senior Manager (

In a recent Supreme Court ruling in the matter of Association for Democratic Reforms & Anr. v/s Union of India, Electoral Bond Scheme (EBS/ Scheme) was declared as unconstitutional, including certain amendments to section 182 of the Companies Act, 2013 (“CA”), amended vide the Finance Act, 2017 as arbitrary and violative of the Constitution of India (COI).

Naturally, a question arises: What is wrong? Contributions to political parties? No. It is only the opacity of the recipient which has been hit. Hence, if companies have contributed, they couldn’t have kept a shroud of secrecy over the same.

Two, if companies had to disclose, and the amendments on 2017 are now junked, does it mean companies have to go back and disclose? It doesn’t seem so. In fact, the apex court itself has taken care of the actionables and put the burden of disclosure on the Election Commission of India (ECI).

Corporate houses, apparently, the largest contributors to electoral bonds, have expressed concerns on what will be the implications of the ruling on donor companies. Several questions arise – What has been declared unconstitutional and what is still valid? What would be the fate of the political donations already made? What actionables arise on a company having made donations to political parties through electoral bonds or otherwise? In this write-up, the author has attempted to analyze the same in light of the 232-pager ruling.

Section 182 of CA – Pre and Post Finance Act 2017

In order to understand what has been rendered unconstitutional and why, let us analyse the provisions of section 182 of CA as it stood prior to the amendment pursuant to Finance Act 2017 v/s how it stands today.

ParticularsPosition prior to Finance Act, 2017Position post Finance Act, 2017Whether unconstitutional as per SC ruling?
Limits on political contribution – Proviso to Sec 182(1)Aggregate value of contribution to political parties cannot exceed 7.5% of 3-years’ average net profitsNo maximum limit on political contributionsYes. The SC concluded removal of limits to be “manifest arbitrariness” for removing a classification without recognising the harms thereof.
Disclosure in financial statements – Section 182(3)Contributor company to disclose names of each parties against the total amount contributed to such partiesOnly total amount contributed to be disclosed, without disclosing namesYes. The SC concluded this to be an “essential” information for effective exercise of voting, and hence, non-disclosure as an infringement to the right of information of voter under Article 19(1)(a) of COI
Mode of contribution – Section 182(3A)New insertion pursuant to Finance ActPolitical contributions to be made only through banking channels (account paying cheque/ bank draft/ ECS) and through instruments issued under a scheme for political contributions (electoral bonds)No impact. However, the Electoral Bond Scheme has been declared to be unconstitutional.

Consequences for donor companies

The SC ruling does not declare “political donations” per se as unconstitutional or invalid, what is rendered violative of constitutional rights is the Electoral Bond Scheme and the amendments to section 182 of CA vide Finance Act, 2017 permitting unlimited and anonymous contributions to political parties.

The legal implications of declaring a statute unconstitutional has been discussed in various rulings in the past, such as, re Behram Khurshid Pesikaka v. State of Bombay, and others. These say the consequences are dealt with by the court only. In the present matter of Electoral Bond Scheme, the SC has directed SBI and the Election Commission of India to disclose the details of contributions received through electoral bonds, and refund the non-encashed amounts to the donor.

In essence it does not seem apt that any burden will be cast upon companies for going by a law which was valid till it was scrapped. Hence, no adverse implications should follow for the donor companies. However, for the sake of its corporate duty, a company which has contributed in the past may now do a disclosure in the forthcoming annual report. Thus, The omission of disclosure of particulars of political donations made along with names of the parties, between FY 2017-18 to FY 2022-23, may be made good by companies in the financial statement for the FY 2023-24 giving details of contribution made along with names of the political parties for each of the previous financial years, along with the current FY 23-24.

Principle of “manifest arbitrariness”

Having reference to various rulings and judicial precedents, the SC has summarized that the doctrine of “manifest arbitrariness” can be imposed to strike down a provision. Such a proposition can be applied where:

  1. the legislature fails to make a classification by recognizing the degrees of harm, and
  2. the purpose is not in consonance with constitutional values.

In the context of permitting unlimited contribution to political parties, on the grounds of removing classification between donations by “individuals” v/s “companies”, or between “loss making companies” and “profit making companies”, the degree of potential harm has been ignored. Section 182 was enacted to curb corruption in electoral financing, however, the amendment allowed companies, incorporated for a specific purpose as per their MoA, to contribute unlimited amounts to political parties without any accountability and scrutiny. This may also facilitate incorporation of “shell companies” solely for the purpose of making such political contributions and permit undue influence of companies in the electoral process, thus violating the principle of free and fair elections and political equality.

The hon’ble SC has ruled the deletion of maximum limit as “violative” of COI and “manifestly arbitrary” for not recognising the degrees of harm in removing the classification between –

  1. Political donations by “companies” and “individuals” where the ability to influence electoral process is much higher with the former, since “Contributions made by individuals have a degree of support or affiliation to a political association. However, contributions made by companies are purely business transactions, made with the intent of securing benefits in return.”
  2. “Profit-making” and “loss-making companies” for the purposes of political contributions, since “it is more plausible that loss-making companies will contribute to political parties with a quid pro quo and not for the purpose of income tax benefits.”

The present SC ruling quashes the anonymous political donations and the amendments in CA permitting unlimited corporate donations to political parties. Political donations are not unconstitutional, however a company, making such donations, shall ensure the same does not result into emptying the resources of the company while also ensuring transparency in disclosure of such political donations in its financial statements for the right of information of the concerned shareholders as well as larger stakeholder and voter base.