SBI seeks deadline extension to disclose details on electoral bonds

The SC had directed SBI to furnish details of all political parties who received donations via electoral bonds to the EC by 6 March

CJI D.Y. Chandrachud (photo: National Herald archives) 
CJI D.Y. Chandrachud (photo: National Herald archives) 

Ashlin Mathew

The State Bank of India (SBI) on Monday filed an application in the Supreme Court seeking an extension until 30 June of the deadline to furnish information regarding electoral bonds to the Election Commission of India (ECI).

On 15 February, the Supreme Court struck down the controversial electoral bonds scheme, which allowed anonymous donations to political parties, stating that it was unconstitutional and violated article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution, which guarantees all citizens "the right to freedom of speech and expression".

The court had directed SBI to furnish details of all political parties who had 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.

In its application, SBI has 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.

It has been submitted that the data related to the issuance of the bond and the data related to the redemption of the bond were recorded in two different silos. No central database was maintained, in order to protect the donors’ anonymity.

The SC had directed that donor information from the date of its interim order of 19 April 2019 up to 15 March 2024 be made public. “In that time period, twenty-two thousand two hundred seventeen (22,217) electoral bonds were used for making donations to various political parties. Redeemed Bonds were deposited to the Mumbai Main Branch by the Authorised Branches at the end of each phase in sealed envelopes.

"Coupled with the fact that two different information silos existed, this would mean that a total of forty four thousand four hundred thirty four (44,434) information sets would have to be decoded, compiled and compared,” SBI said in its application, adding that the timeline of three weeks fixed by the court in its judgement “would not be sufficient for the entire exercise to be completed”.

While striking down the scheme, a five-judge Constitution bench of Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud and justices Sanjiv Khanna, B.R. Gavai, J.B. Pardiwala and Manoj Misra had unanimously quashed the scheme and the amendments made to the Income Tax Act and the Representation of People Act which had made the donations anonymous.

“Electoral Bonds Scheme, proviso to Section 29(1)(c) as amended by Section 139 of Income Tax Act and Section 13(b) as amended by Finance Act 2017 is violative of Article 19(1)(a). Amendments to Income Tax Act and Representation of People Act on absolute non-disclosure of donations are struck down” said the CJI.

The court had stated that the scheme helps the party in power gain an undue advantage, and cannot be justified in the name of “black money” either. "Economic inequality leads to differing levels of political engagements. Access to info leads to influencing the policy-making and also leading to quid pro quo arrangements may help a party by the party in power," the judgment said.

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