Electoral Bonds: SC denies SBI extension, wants details tomorrow

The Supreme Court has also directed the Election Commission to publish donor details on its website by 5 p.m., 15 March

The SC bench also warned the SBI of contempt of court if it failed to comply with the Court's orders. (photo: PTI)
The SC bench also warned the SBI of contempt of court if it failed to comply with the Court's orders. (photo: PTI)

Ashlin Mathew

The Supreme Court has dismissed the State Bank of India’s application seeking extension of time till 30 June to furnish details related to the donors of the electoral bonds scheme and ordered it to share the information with the Election Commission of India (ECI) by 12 March.

It also directed the poll body to publish said details on its website by 5 p.m. on 15 March.

The five-judge bench Constitution bench of Chief Justice of India (CJI) D.Y. Chandrachud and justices Sanjiv Khanna, B.R. Gavai, J.B. Pardiwala and Manoj Misra also warned the SBI that it might be charged with contempt of court if it failed to comply.

The bench was hearing the SBI application for an extension of the court's prior deadline, along with contempt petitions filed by the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), Common Cause and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) against the bank for not submitting the details within the Court's earlier 8 March deadline.

“Submissions of SBI in the application indicate that information sought is available, so the application by SBI seeking extension of time until June 30 is dismissed. SBI is directed to disclose the details by the close of business hours of March 12, 2024," stated the CJI.

The bench also directed the Election Commission to publish on its website the information given to the court in a sealed cover in November 2023. The Supreme Court had, in November 2023, directed the poll body to submit in a sealed cover the 'up to date' data of funds received by political parties through electoral bonds till 30 September 2023.

The five-judge bench had on 15 February struck down the controversial electoral bonds scheme that allows anonymous donations to political parties, stating that it was unconstitutional and violates Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution.

It had directed the SBI to furnish details of all the political parties that received electoral bonds and submit them to the ECI by 6 March. The ECI then had to publish these details on its website by 13 March 2024.

Two days before the deadline, SBI filed an application seeking extension of time to furnish these details.

Appearing for the bank, senior advocate Harish Salve said the bank had stored “donor and redemption details in separate silos as secrecy was ordered, hence the bank required a little more time to comply with the orders”.

The CJI pointed out that the scheme was struck down by the court last month and wanted to know what the bank had done since then to compile the information.

“This court’s directions require SBI to disclose information which is already available with it. The FAQs on electoral bonds state that the KYC documents have to be submitted by the purchaser each time that the bond is purchased, irrespective of whether the purchaser has a KYC verified purchaser account. Thus, details of [electoral bonds] purchased and directed to be disclosed are readily available," pointed out the court.

"There are large data sets to decipher and a total of 22,217 bonds were purchased between April 2019 to February 2024, and this will lead to 44,000 plus data sets since there are two silos of info and thus compilation will be (a) time-consuming process," SBI had submitted.

The bank stated that owing to the stringent measures undertaken to ensure that the identity of donors was kept anonymous, “decoding” of the electoral bonds and the matching of donor to donation would be a complex process. However, the court did not agree to this submission.

The Chief Justice underscored that the court had not ordered the bank to match details. Instead, it only had to disclose all the information it held, as indeed the bank had all the details with it already because of the KYC procedure.

“What you are saying is that there are two different information silos and matching them would require significant effort. But, in the directions we issued, we did not ask you to do this matching exercise. We have simply directed plain disclosure. The grounds on which you seek additional time do not accord with the directions we issued,” the court held.

In last month’s order, the apex court had ordered the bank to provide details of the electoral bonds purchased, including the names of the purchasers and the denominations of the electoral bonds they purchased, and details of the electoral bonds redeemed by various political parties, which includes the date of their encashment. The ECI was then to publish these details on its website within a week.

The bench had then said that the best way would be to open the sealed cover, collate the names and furnish the details to the Election Commission.

Justice Khanna pointed out that the political parties had already given the details of the electoral bonds encashed by them. “Purchasers' details are already available,” he added, since the bank was required to record them for every instance of purchase.

While reading out the order, the CJI stated that though the Supreme Court would not initiate contempt proceedings against the SBI at this time, the bank should file an affidavit of compliance with these directions, signed by its chairperson and managing director.

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