SC pulls up SBI over incomplete info on electoral bonds, says bank "duty bound" to disclose unique numbers

The Supreme Court on Friday pulled up the State Bank of India over non-disclosure of the numbers unique to each electoral bond that would help in matching donors with the recipient political party, saying it was "duty bound" to reveal them.
Supreme Court to State Bank of India
Supreme Court to State Bank of India

New Delhi | The Supreme Court on Friday pulled up the State Bank of India over non-disclosure of the numbers unique to each electoral bond that would help in matching donors with the recipient political party, saying it was "duty bound" to reveal them.

The top court also issued a notice to the country's largest bank to explain the reasons for not revealing the unique alphanumeric numbers in compliance of its directions even as a political row erupted over the electoral bonds scheme.

A five-judge bench headed by Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud said the apex court had, in its verdict in the electoral bonds case, directed the disclosure of all the details of the bonds, including the purchaser, amount and date of purchase.

All details have to be furnished by the SBI, the CJI observed, as the court admonished the SBI for furnishing incomplete information, a day after the Election Commission put out the entire list of entities that purchased electoral bonds for making political donations.

The bench, also comprising Justices Sanjiv Khanna, B R Gavai, J B Pardiwala and Manoj Misra, posted the electoral bonds case for resumed hearing on March 18.

While it is already known that the ruling BJP received the highest amount of donation of over Rs 6,000 crore, which was nearly half of the total, the data dump only disclosed the amount donated by each entity or individual. It does not say who donated to which party.

The SBI has said a total of 22,217 electoral bonds of varying denominations were purchased by donors between April 1, 2019 and February 15 this year, out of which 22,030 were redeemed by political parties. Data pertaining to electoral bonds scheme was made public on Thursday following Supreme Court directions.

The apex court gave the directions while hearing an application filed by the Election Commission(EC) seeking a modification of the operative portion of its March 11 order in the electoral bonds case. It directed the Registrar (judicial) to ensure that the data filed earlier by the poll panel before it in a sealed cover be scanned and digitised.

"Who is appearing for the SBI? Because, in our judgement, we had directed disclosure specifically of all details of the bonds including the purchaser, the amount and the date of purchase. They have not disclosed the bond numbers. That has to be disclosed by the SBI," the CJI said.

"But, really speaking, we can take exception to what they have disclosed because they were duty bound."

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, meanwhile, denied any link between the functioning of investigative agencies, including raids by the Enforcement Directorate(ED), and electoral funding to the BJP, saying these allegations are just assumptions.

"What if the companies gave the money, and after that, we still went and knocked at their doors through ED (Enforcement Directorate). Is that a probability or not...It is an assumption that the ED went and knocked at their doors, and to save themselves they came up with funds. The second assumption is that are you sure that they have given (electoral bonds) to BJP. What if they probably gave to regional parties," she said while speaking at India Today Conclave.

Sitharaman’s comments came as the Aam Aadmi Party(AAP) accused the BJP of receiving proceeds of crime from companies under probe by the ED.

Addressing a press conference, Delhi cabinet minister Saurabh Bharadwaj asked if the BJP would accept receiving funds from companies that were attached by the ED in connection with money laundering.

The Congress demanded a high-level probe by the Supreme Court against the BJP and freezing of its bank accounts for alleged corruption in the electoral bonds scheme.

The opposition party alleged that the electoral bonds data has exposed the "corrupt tactics" of the BJP such as "quid pro quo," grant of "protection" to companies against donations, accepting "kickbacks," and money laundering through shell companies.

Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge took a swipe at the BJP, saying, "PM Modi says 'Na khaunga, na khane doonga', but it seems that he only meant 'Sirf BJP ko khilaunga'."

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi termed the scrapped electoral bonds scheme brought in by the BJP-led Union government as the "biggest extortion racket in the world."

The Polit Bureau of the CPI(M) welcomed the court’s order to SBI to share the alpha numeric codes of electoral bonds, claiming the move means there have been efforts to undermine the top court's verdict.

Santiago Martin, who emerged as the top buyer of electoral bonds as per the EC, has been under the ED radar for years. Also known as the 'Lottery king', Martin's Future Games and Hotel Services bought electoral bonds worth Rs 1,368 crore. It was followed by Hyderabad-based Megha Engineering & Infra(Rs 966 crore). Several corporates also figured in the donors list.

Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, who was appearing in the matter, said the apex court's verdict was quite clear that the SBI shall furnish all the details of electoral bonds to the EC.

Advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing for a petitioner NGO, said the SBI had said in its application filed in the top court seeking extension of time to furnish the details to the EC that it has the bond numbers.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said he was appearing for the Centre and not for the SBI. "Would your lordships consider issuing notice to SBI. They may have something to say."

"They should be here when the matter is going on," the bench said.

Mehta said the SBI was not a party in the case and its representatives were before the court when it had filed an application which was disposed of.

"The judgement of the Constitution bench required the SBI to furnish to the EC all details of the electoral bonds purchased, and as the case may be, redeemed by political parties including the date of purchase. It has been submitted that the SBI has not disclosed the alphanumeric numbers of the electoral bonds," the bench said.

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