SBI has to disclose unique electoral bond code to match donations with parties, says Supreme Court

The State Bank of India is required to disclose the unique code on each electoral bond that could be used to match the donations to the party that received it, in addition to the data it has already given to the Election Commission, the Supreme Court said on Friday, Live Law reported.

On Wednesday, the bank in an affidavit to the top court said it had furnished details of anonymously purchased electoral bonds by contributors and encashed by political parties between April 2019 and February 15, 2024, to the Election Commission. However, it did not mention the unique codes.

The Supreme Court on Friday was hearing a petition by the Election Commission. The poll panel has sought the return of the data on electoral bonds that was submitted to the court in a sealed cover in November.

At the beginning of the hearing, a bench headed by Chief Justice DY Chandrachud said that the State Bank of India had not disclosed the bond numbers. He eventually directed a notice to be issued to the bank.

The bench also disposed of the Election Commission’s petition and instructed the registrar general to ensure that the data filed by the poll panel is scanned and digitised by 5 pm on Saturday. The original copy would then be returned to the commission once the process of digitisation is completed.

Supreme Court judgment

The Supreme Court had on February 15 said that the electoral bonds could lead to quid pro quo arrangements between donors and political parties when it struck down the scheme as unconstitutional. The court had directed the State Bank of India to issue details of the political parties that received electoral bonds from April 12, 2019, and submit them to the Election Commission by March 6.

On March 4, the government-owned bank sought an extension till June 30 from the court to provide the information to the Election Commission.

The top court on Monday dismissed the bank’s plea and directed it to disclose the details of the electoral bonds to the Election Commission by March 12.

Data by State Bank of India

The State Bank of India met the deadline and furnished the names of the buyers of the electoral bonds, with the date of purchase and denomination of the bond to the Election Commission. The details also included the names of the political parties who have redeemed the bonds, along with the date and denomination.

A total of 22,217 electoral bonds were purchased and 22,030 were redeemed by political parties between April 1, 2019, and February 15, 2024, the affidavit said.

Between April 1, 2019 and April 11, 2019, the bank sold 3,346 electoral bonds and 1,609 were redeemed by political parties. Between April 12, 2019, and February 15, 2024, donors bought 18,871 bonds and 20,421 were redeemed by parties.

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Election Commission’s plea

On Thursday, the poll panel moved the Supreme Court that it had not kept any copies of the data that it presented to the court in November with itself to maintain confidentiality.

It sought the return of the data from the court so that it could be uploaded on its website in compliance with the court’s March 11 direction.

On March 11, while rejecting the State Bank of India’s plea seeking more time to furnish the data on electoral bonds, the Supreme Court asked the Election Commission to also publish the data of bonds sold and encashed prior to April 12, 2019.

Electoral bonds were monetary instruments that citizens or corporate groups could buy from the State Bank of India and give to a political party, which could then redeem them.

The entire process was anonymous since buyers were not required to declare their purchase of these interest-free bonds and political parties did not need to show the source of the money. However, the Centre could access information about these donors as it controls the State Bank of India.

The electoral bonds scheme was introduced by the Bharatiya Janata Party-led Union government in 2018.

Read more analysis on this topic by the Project Electoral Bond, a collaborative project involving Scroll, The News Minute, Newslaundry and freelance journalists.

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