SBI sends electoral bonds data to the Election Commission of India

The State Bank of India (SBI) on Tuesday, March 12, sends the electoral bonds data to the Election Commission of India by 5:30 pm, as per the directions of the Supreme Court.

Chastising the SBI, the Supreme Court on Monday ordered it to disclose the details of the electoral bonds encashed by political parties to the Election Commission by the close of the business hours on March 12 and warned the country’s largest public sector lender that the court may proceed against it for “wilful disobedience” if it failed to comply with its directions and deadlines.

A five-judge constitution bench headed by Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud, while dismissing the State Bank of India’s plea seeking extension of time till June 30 to disclose the details, also directed the EC to publish the information shared by the bank on its official website by 5 p.m. on March 15.

The order was passed by the bench, which also comprised Justices Sanjiv Khanna, B R Gavai, J B Pardiwala, and Manoj Misra.

In a landmark verdict delivered on February 15, the same five-judge constitution bench had scrapped the Centre’s controversial electoral bonds scheme that allowed anonymous political funding, calling it “unconstitutional”, and ordered disclosure by the EC of donors, the amount donated by them and the recipients by March 13.

Ordering the closure of the scheme, the top court directed the SBI, the authorised financial institution under the scheme, to submit by March 6 the details of the electoral bonds purchased since April 12, 2019 till date to the Election Commission.

Opposition leaders hailed the apex court’s order passed on Monday and said the country will soon come to know who donated to which party through electoral bonds.

“With the Supreme Court’s decision, the country will soon come to know who donated to the BJP through electoral bonds. This is the first step in exposing the corruption, scams and transactions of the Modi government,” Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge said in a post in Hindi on ‘X’.

Samajwadi Party president Akhilesh Yadav expressed delight over the top court’s decision rejecting the SBI’s plea seeking extension of time to furnish the details of electoral bonds to the Election Commission.

When asked to comment on the apex court’s order, Yadav said, “The people of the entire country should be informed about this. Glad that at least the list (list of people associated with electoral bonds) will come through the Supreme Court. From this list it will be known whom the election bonds related to. Now, the question is whether that list will be made public or not.”

The apex court passed the order while hearing the SBI’s application for extension of time till June 30 to furnish the details.

The bench was also hearing separate pleas seeking initiation of contempt action against the SBI for alleged willful disobedience of the apex court’s February 15 directives.

It observed that SBI’s submissions in the application sufficiently indicated that the information which was directed to be disclosed by the court was readily available.

“In view of the above discussion, the miscellaneous application filed by SBI seeking an extension of time for the disclosure of details of the purchase and redemption of electoral bonds until June 30, 2024, is dismissed,” it said.

“SBI is directed to disclose the details by the close of business hours of March 12,” the bench said, adding, “As regards the ECI, we direct that ECI shall compile the information and publish the details on its official website no later by 5 pm on March 15, 2024”.

The bench said the SBI chairman and managing director will file an affidavit on compliance with the directions issued by the top court.

During the hearing, the bench took note of the submissions of senior advocate Harish Salve, appearing for the SBI, that more time was needed for collating the details and matching them as the information was kept in two different silos with its branches.

He said if the matching exercise was to be done away with, the SBI could complete the exercise within three weeks.

“We had not told you to do the matching exercise. We have asked you for a plain disclosure,” the CJI said.

Salve said when electoral bonds were being purchased, the bank divided the information and the names are kept at one place while the purchaser record is at another place.

Referring to SBI’s application, Justice Khanna said paragraph 10 of the plea specifically said all the purchaser details have been kept in a sealed cover in the main branch of the bank.

“You just have to simply open up the sealed cover and give the details,” Justice Khanna said.

“Mr Salve, our judgement is dated February 15, 2024. We are now on the 11th of March. In the last 26 days, what extent of matching has been done by you? What steps have you taken in the last 26 days, the application is absolutely silent on that,” the CJI said.

He said an assistant general manager of SBI has filed an affidavit in support of the application for modification of on order of a constitution bench.

“It is serious matter when you ask for modification of an order of the constitution bench,” the CJI said.

When Salve said the bank cannot make a mistake in this as it may get sued by the donor, Justice Gavai observed, “Whatever you are doing, you are doing under the directions of the highest court of the country. Where is the question of you being sued?”

At the outset, Salve said the bank had stopped the issuance of electoral bonds as per the court’s February 15 direction.

In its application, the SBI had contended that the 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.

(This is a developing story. The latest version will be updated)

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