Supreme Court to hear SBI's request for electoral bond disclosure extension

A five-judge Constitution bench will also hear a separate plea seeking initiation of contempt action against SBI

Supreme Court of India (photo: National Herald archives)
Supreme Court of India (photo: National Herald archives)
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PTI

The Supreme Court will on Monday, 11 March, hear the application filed by the State Bank of India (SBI) seeking an extension till 30 June to disclose details of each electoral bond encashed by political parties before the scheme was scrapped in February.

A five-judge Constitution bench headed by Chief Justice D.Y. Chandrachud will also hear a separate plea, which has sought initiation of contempt action against the SBI alleging, it "wilfully and deliberately" disobeyed the apex court's direction to submit details of the contributions made to political parties through electoral bonds to the Election Commission by 6 March.

The apex court bench, also comprising justices Sanjiv Khanna, B.R. Gavai, J.B. Pardiwala, and Manoj Misra, will assemble at 10.30 am to hear the two petitions.

In a landmark verdict delivered on 15 February, a five-judge constitution bench scrapped the Centre's electoral bonds scheme that allowed anonymous political funding, calling it "unconstitutional" and ordered disclosure by the Election Commission of the donors, the amount donated by them, and the recipients by 13 March.

The top court subsequently directed the SBI, the authorised financial institution under the scheme, to submit by March 6 the details of the electoral bonds purchased from 12 April, 2019 till date to the Election Commission, which was asked to publish the information on its official website by 13 March.

On 4 March, the SBI moved the apex court seeking an extension till 30 June to disclose the details of the electoral bonds encashed by political parties.

The SBI contended that retrieval of information from "each silo" and the procedure of matching the information of one silo to that of the other would be a time-consuming exercise.

The application said due to stringent measures undertaken to ensure that the identity of the donors was kept anonymous, "decoding" the electoral bonds and matching the donors to the donations would be a complex process.

"It submitted that the data related to the issuance of the bond and the data related to the redemption of the bond was kept recorded in two different silos. No central database was maintained. This was done to ensure that donors' anonymity would be protected," it said.

"It is submitted that donor details were kept in a sealed cover at the designated branches and all such sealed covers were deposited in the main branch of the applicant bank, which is located in Mumbai," it said.

Later, a separate petition was filed in the apex court seeking initiation of contempt proceedings against the SBI for alleged disobedience of the apex court's directives.

The contempt plea, filed by NGOs Association for Democratic Reforms and Common Cause, claimed SBI's application seeking an extension of time had been deliberately filed at the last moment to ensure that details of donors and the amount of donations were not disclosed to the public before the upcoming Lok Sabha elections.

"It is submitted that the said application is mala fide and demonstrates a wilful and deliberate disobedience & defiance of the judgement passed by the constitution bench of this court. It is further a clear attempt to undermine the authority of this court," it said.


"The petitioner herein is filing the instant petition seeking initiation of contempt proceedings against State Bank of India for wilfully and deliberately disobeying the order dated 15 February passed by this court … wherein this court directed SBI to submit details of the contribution made to the political parties through electoral bonds to the Election Commission of India by 6 March," the contempt plea said.

It said as per clause 7 of the electoral bond scheme, the information furnished by the buyer can be disclosed when demanded by a competent court.

"As per clause 12 (4) of the scheme, electoral bonds have to be encashed within fifteen days failing which the amount of bonds not encashed are to be deposited by the bank to the PM relief Fund. Thus, it is inconceivable that SBI does not have the recorded information readily available within its database," it said.

The plea said electoral bonds are "completely traceable" which is evident from the fact that SBI maintains a secret number-based record of donors who buy bonds and the political parties they donate to.

The contempt plea said any form of anonymity in the finances of political parties goes against the essence of participatory democracy and people's right to know enshrined under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution.

It said the availability of information about electoral bonds will give voters a chance to truly inspect, express and decide their choices.

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