Electoral bonds: As SC turns down SBI plea, what we know about the scheme

Electoral bonds
Electoral bonds

The Supreme Court on Monday (March 11) denied SBI’s (SBI’s) request for an extension to comply with the court’s prior order to disclose information relating to the electoral bonds.

This court pointing out that the required information is already in SBI, ordered the SBI to release the information before the close of the business hours on March 12.

The 15th of February was the day that the highest court upheld the electoral bonds scheme, declaring it illegal and also stating that electoral bonds violate the right to information as well as the law of 19(1)(a).

As part of the decision that was issued, the bank that issued the bonds, SBI, was directed to provide information on the electoral bonds it that were purchased between April 12 and April 13 in 2019, in the form of a report to Election Commission of India by March 6, 2019. However the SBI applied for an extension to June 30, well before when the Lok Sabha elections to be held in the coming year. They cited the “complexity in processing and decoding information from the sale of the bonds.

A bench comprising the Chief Justice D.Y. Chandrachud and Justices Sanjiv Khanna, B.R. Gavai, J.B. Pardiwala and Manoj Misra were hearing the extension plea of SBI as well as contempt petitions filed by the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), Common Cause, and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) against the bank that is a part of the public sector for its refusal to disclose crucial details regarding the bonds, according to LiveLawreported.

The senior advocate Harish Salve, representing the SBI stated that the details about the donors and redemption in the bond were kept in separate silos of data and that the delay was due to the complex nature of the matching exercise.

In response, CJI Chandrachud pointed out that the court’s instructions did not oblige that the institution to run a “matching exercise’ but rather to reveal the details. Chief justice Chandrachud also said that the bank was able to provide all the information it needed in its KYC documents as stated in the report. This implies that the SBI is not required to divulge which bonds were sold to whom.

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The court also challenged the SBI’s silence regarding the progress made over the 26 days that passed since the decision was made. Salve promised the court information regarding the progress would be recorded on the record as an indictment. “Our decision was made the 15th of February. Today, it is March 11. In the past 27 days of the month, what was the amount of matching performed by you? The affidavit doesn’t mention this. We are expecting a certain amount of honesty of the State Bank of India,” the court stated.

“We have the details, I am not saying we don’t have them,” Salve said to the court. He then reiterated that the problem was caused due to the colonisation of the data that was recorded through the State Bank of India.

“We were told this was to be a secret. This is the reason we came up with the method. We don’t want to cause any harm through any error …” Salve made. But, Justice Khanna said, “The,re there is no issue of a mistake. You are in possession of the KYC. You are the top bank in the world. We trust you to take care of this ,”

The bank, in its reports has stated that all buying information was kept in a closed cover in the branch’s main office. Justice Khanna pointed this out and advised, “Simply open up the closed cover, make a list of the names and provide the information .”

The information sought by SBI SBI includes the purchase date, the name of the purchaser, and the amount of each bond. In addition, information on bonds encashable through political party encashments, such as the date of the encashment were also requested.

The court in its final ruling in its final order, stated “The State Bank of India has stated that details of the donor and redemption are accessible, though separated in silos. Also, the order given by the court obliges the bank to share the information already accessible to it.

“As regards the Election Commission of India, we direct them to compile the information and publish the information on their website no later than by 5 PM on March 15, 2024,” the order read.

The bench also requested the ECI to make available the specifics of the data provided to the court pursuant of its interim order that was issued in November last year on the commission’s website. In the interim decision, the court demanded the ECI for information on funds that were received by all political parties through the electoral bonds until September 30 with a sealed cover.

When inquired about the new deadline for March 12 that was set by the SBI through the Supreme Court, an ECI spokesperson said, “no comments.”

Contempt petition

In refusing to commence the process of contempt against SBI the court stated it is likely to take action against the bank in the event of a willful disregard for its instructions should there be a failure to comply with the most recent directives, LiveLaw said.

“The State Bank of India will file an affidavit by its chairman and managing director confirming conformity with the directives that were issued earlier. Although we do not intend to use the jurisdiction of contempt at the moment but we do put on notice the State Bank of India on note that this court could be inclined to take action against it for disobedience with intent when it fails to conform with the deadlines set forth in this order.” CJI Chandrachud told.

On March 7th the 7th of March, advocate Prashant Bhushan, who represented ADR as well as Common Cause, requested an urgent hearing on their contempt petition. He urged the court to consider listing it along with the SBI’s extensions plea, which is scheduled to be heard on March 11.

This petition claimed intentional defiance by SBI and sought contempt actions for the institution. The petitioners said they believe that SBI’s demand to extend the deadline is “mala fide” and a ploy to block initiatives to promote transparency prior to the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections

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