Supreme Court castigates SBI for not disclosing EB serial numbers | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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Supreme Court castigates SBI for not disclosing EB serial numbers

Mar 15, 2024 12:24 PM IST

Allowing ECI’s request, the bench on Friday directed the court registrar to ensure the documents submitted by ECI are scanned and digitised by 5pm on Saturday

The Supreme Court on Friday expressed disapproval of the State Bank of India (SBI) for not disclosing the unique serial number linked to each electoral bond (EB) when supplying the Election Commission of India (ECI) with information about bond beneficiaries and donors for public release.

Each electoral bond is imprinted with a unique serial number that can assist in tracking the issuance and redemption of bonds.(File)
Each electoral bond is imprinted with a unique serial number that can assist in tracking the issuance and redemption of bonds.(File)

“We can take exception to what they have not disclosed. Our direction was clear... We directed disclosure of entire details. They have not disclosed the bond number. They have to disclose the number too,” said a Constitution bench, led by Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud, seeking the bank’s reply on March 18.

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Also Read: What does Electoral Bond data published by the ECI tell us?

Under the 2018 EB scheme which was quashed by the Supreme Court on February 15, each electoral bond is imprinted with a unique serial number that can assist in tracking the issuance and redemption of bonds and may also come handy in tracing the bond back to the purchaser.

At this point, solicitor general Tushar Mehta said that the court may seek a response from the bank on the issue.

“They may have something to say on this,” Mehta submitted before the bench, also comprising justices Sanjiv Khanna, BR Gavai, JB Pardiwala and Manoj Misra.

Also Read | Electoral bonds: Congress claims mismatch in entries of donor, recipient data

Responding, the court remarked: “If you see our judgement, it said ‘all details’ have to be furnished... really speaking, we can take exception.”

Appearing for some of the petitioners, senior counsel Kapil Sibal and advocate Prashant Bhushan contended that the bank was in breach of the judgment, which made it clear in its February 15 verdict that all details available with SBI regarding the bonds purchased and redeemed since April 2019 must be supplied to the ECI.

Bhushan added that the SBI’s application for extension of time to share data with ECI had in fact recorded that they have the information on the alphanumeric serial numbers of EBs.

Mehta replied that since he is appearing for the Union government and SBI is not a formal party before the court in the present proceedings, the bank should be put to notice before issuing any fresh order.

Accepting his plea, the court issued notice to SBI and fixed the matter for hearing next on March 19.

The court’s disdain came as it allowed a plea by ECI, seeking retrieval of the EB documents it had presented to the court in November last year.

The poll body had moved the court on Thursday, the same day it made public the data on EBs provided by SBI on its website. Claiming that it did not retain copies of the documents, ECI expressed its inability to comply with the court order on Monday that directed the poll body to “forthwith” publish the details of the information which was supplied to the court in November 2023.

Allowing ECI’s request, the bench on Friday directed the court registrar to ensure the documents submitted by ECI are scanned and digitised by 5pm on Saturday. Subsequently, the original documents as well as a copy of the digitised data will be supplied to ECI’s counsel Amit Sharma for enabling the poll body to publish this date within two days.

On November 2, the five-judge bench had directed ECI to provide it with comprehensive information on donations received by political parties through EBs till September 30, 2023. Subsequently, ECI submitted details in two tranches, containing 309 and 214 sealed envelopes respectively.

On Wednesday, the SBI chairman had filed his affidavit of compliance in the Supreme Court, informing it that the entire details of EBs purchased since April 1, 2019, have been submitted to the ECI by the deadline set down by the court in its order on Monday.

The affidavit of SBI chairman Dinesh Kumar Khara stated that the documents furnished to ECI include two sets of information -- one containing the names of political parties and the details regarding the bonds redeemed by them, while the other set contains the details of EB purchasers. These two sets of data were released by the ECI on its website on Thursday evening.

The SBI chairman’s affidavit added that 22,217 bonds were purchased between April 1, 2019, and February 15, 2024, and the total number of bonds redeemed during this period was 22,030.

The 187 bonds not redeemed within the validity period of 15 days were transferred to the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund in accordance with a 2018 gazette notification.

SBI had earlier this month approached the Supreme Court with a plea for granting it time till June 30 to submit details of EBs purchased since April 12, 2019, arguing that “decoding” the data and matching donors to recipients would be a “complex process”.

But, on Monday, the bench rejected the SBI’s plea, noting that the required information was “readily available” with the bank, and giving it time until the business hours of March 12 to do so.

The court had on February 15 struck down the Centre’s 2018 EB scheme of political funding, declaring it to be “unconstitutional” because it completely anonymised contributions made to political parties, and added that restricting black money or illegal election financing -- some of the articulated objectives of the scheme -- did not justify violating voters’ right to information in a disproportionate manner. It had ordered full disclosure of EBs purchased and those redeemed by political parties.

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