SBI's delay in sharing electoral bond details raises suspicions

State Bank of India claims it requires four months to produce the list of 22,000 buyers of electoral bonds

SBI was trolled on social media for making a mockery of ‘Digital India’ (photo: National Herald archives)
SBI was trolled on social media for making a mockery of ‘Digital India’ (photo: National Herald archives)

A.J. Prabal

Is the largest Indian bank trying to protect ‘Modi ka Parivar’ who bought electoral bonds?

The question is raging after the SBI (State Bank of India) filed an application seeking time till 30 June to share details with the Election Commission of India. The SBI was about to do it by Wednesday, 6 March, and the ECI was directed by the Supreme Court to publish the details on its website by 13 March.

However on 4 March, the SBI sought more time, four months to be precise, to produce the list.

As the SBI sought more time to comply with the SC direction, the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), chief petitioner in the electoral bonds case, said it was considering all legal options, including opposing the SBI's request in the court.

The SBI was trolled on social media for making a mockery of ‘Digital India’ and reminded that in the connected banking system, it should not take much time to provide details of just about 22,000 electoral bonds. SBI is India's largest bank serving more than 480 million account holders whose details are available at the click of a mouse.

“If even the smallest bank in a banana republic said it could not produce such basic information (donor and recipient) in a few weeks, its banking license would be cancelled for failing basic record-keeping regulations,” exclaimed former Tamil Nadu finance minister Dr P. Thiaga Rajan.

Commodore Lokesh Batra (retired), the transparency activist who relentlessly pursued the scheme for six years with information obtained from SBI and ECI through RTI applications, fished out documents to point out that the SBI had spent Rs 1.5 crore to upgrade its computer system for the electoral bond scheme. Why should the bank need more than three weeks to produce the list of donors and recipients of 22,000 bonds? Surely it does not propose to match the details manually? For the SBI, it is a farce and for the nation, a national tragedy, exclaimed an IT professional.

An outraged COBOL programmer, who had worked with the TCS for five years on its ‘Bancs Software’ which is used to carry out all the transactions in SBI, dismissed SBI’s claim by stating, “This is one shell script job to query the database and generate a report in a particular format. It does not require any manual verification as SBI would like the court to believe.”

He further explained that “SBI, whenever it had to issue electoral bonds (EB), first created a uniquely identifiable number for each bond and stored in their valuable paper inventory (VPI) database. When an EB was purchased, the purchaser's details were recorded (KYC information) and stored in a database. This transaction also had a unique identifier, let's call it TxID (transaction ID).”

“Once the bond was issued and given to a political party which approached designated branches of the SBI to encash the EB, the EBid would be verified against the database entry and on successful verification the money would get deposited to the political party’s account,” he added.

In order to get the data, the IT team of SBI is required to run “a script on its main transaction database to fetch all transactions with TxID which would provide the list of all bonds deposited or encashed and corresponding EBid. Now each EBid record can be extracted from the VPI database along with details of whom it was issued to and when.

“All this fetched information needs to be formatted in a column and then needs to be printed. It doesn't take six months,” he claimed.

In its application to the Supreme Court, 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. It also claimed that "decoding' the electoral bonds and matching donors to the donations made would be a complex process since no central database was maintained.”

An indignant Prof Jagdeep Chhokar of ADR exclaimed, “…the data is obviously in digital format and collecting data from different states and locations and taking four months for that is impossible in this day and age,” he told The Hindu.

RTI activist Anjali Bhardwaj, who is a member of the board of Common Cause, which is also one of the petitioners, said: “Donor names and redemption details of electoral bonds are both available in SBI’s Mumbai Branch in sealed cover as per their affidavit. Why is SBI not disclosing these immediately?”

“Claim that it needs four months to match purchaser and redeemer info for 22,217 bonds is ridiculous!” she posted on X.

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