‘Give available info, no need to match donors & parties’: SC to SBI on electoral bonds

The SC pointed out that the SBI had only been directed to disclose information that was already available with it, that is, details of the bonds purchased, and information about political parties that received bonds.
Supreme Court of India
Supreme Court of IndiaIANS
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The Supreme Court, on Monday, March 11, directed the State Bank of India (SBI) to provide two sets of details — details of purchasers along with the denomination of bonds; and details of bonds redeemed by political parties. The court directed SBI, which is the sole issuer of electoral bonds, to submit the details to the Election Commission of India (ECI) by the close of business hours on March 12, 2024. The ECI is then directed to publish the details on its website before 5 pm on March 15, 2024. 

A five-judge Constitution bench headed by the Chief Justice of India (CJI) DY Chandrachud dismissed the petition of SBI that sought extension of time to submit details of electoral bonds. The court was hearing a contempt petition filed by Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) and Common Cause, arguing that the SBI is deliberately defying the court's order.

SBI had told the court that it needs additional time till June 30 to submit the data, stating that the process of "decoding the electoral bonds and matching the donors to donations" is a complex and time consuming exercise. SBI also said that the information was not available in a digital format and that the details of the purchasers of the bond were not available centrally. Further, the bank also informed the top court that donor details and recipient details were available in separate silos and the details of purchasers were kept in a sealed cover, which were deposited in the main branch of SBI Mumbai. It also said that information regarding electoral bonds redeemed by parties were stored in a sealed cover and were sent to SBI Mumbai branch. 

The SBI also told the court that matching the two sets of information is a time-consuming process, as donor information and redemption information is maintained in two distinct silos independent of each other. “A total of 22,217 bonds were purchased between the period. This would add up to 44, 434 data sets since there are two silos of information,” the court noted.

However, the bench pointed out that the direction issued to SBI was to disclose information that was already available with it, that is, details of the bonds purchased, and information about political parties that received bonds.

The court had earlier directed the bank to submit the details of electoral bonds purchased and the details of all political parties that have received contributions through electoral bonds since April 12, 2019, to the ECI before March 6. The ECI was directed to publish all these details on its official website before March 13.

The five-judge bench comprising CJI Chandrachud and Justices Sanjiv Khanna, BR Gavai, JB Pardiwala, and Manoj Misra, on February 15, declared the Union government’s electoral bonds scheme unconstitutional and said that it violated voters’ fundamental right to information. Two days before the court-imposed deadline to disclose the information, the SBI, on March 4, petitioned the Supreme Court seeking an extension until June 30 to disclose the details of electoral bonds.

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