“All that we would like to state for the present is that the rival contentions give rise to weighty issues which have a tremendous bearing on the sanctity of the electoral process in the country. Such weighty issues would require an in-depth hearing which cannot be concluded and the issues answered within the limited time that is available before the process of funding through the Electoral Bonds comes to a closure, as per the schedule noted earlier,” the Supreme Court said in 2019 in its first interim order.
Yet, when the case was finally heard by a five-judge Constitution Bench, it only took six sessions – spread across three days – for the Court to conclude the hearing and reserve verdict.
“We should point out at the threshold that there cannot be repeated applications seeking the same relief, merely because the interim reliefs sought, relates to something that is to happen at periodical intervals of time,” the Court had said in 2021, declining to stay the scheme for the second time.
The case was first heard on October 3, 2017 when a bench of the then Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud issued notice to the government.
In these six years, the case represented the sharp criticism of “judicial evasion” – that the delay in hearing crucial cases involving the government tacitly benefitted the government.
Other high-stakes cases for the government including challenge to the Aadhaar scheme, abrogation of Article 370, demonetisation policy saw a significant delay in hearing.
One crucial part of the challenge – the question of whether the law could have been introduced as a money Bill – was not argued since that issue is pending before another 7-judge Constitution Bench.
The money Bill issue would impact several key legislations, apart from electoral bonds, including Aadhaar and key amendments to the Prevention of Money Laundering Act.
Delays in setting up Constitution Benches cases are not uncommon since it requires at least five-judge benches to sit for days, putting other regular cases on hold. The last such Bench, which heard the challenge to the abrogation of Article 370 in August, took 16 days. The marriage equality case was heard for over 10 days.