Supreme Court orders ‘complete disclosure’ on electoral bonds from SBI

The Supreme Court clarifies it had directed information on poll bonds from April 12, 2019; rejects plea for disclosure of data prior to April 12, 2019

March 18, 2024 11:14 am | Updated 05:56 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Chief Justice of India (CJI) Justice D.Y. Chandrachud speaks during the hearing of the application of the State Bank of India (SBI) seeking an extension of time till June 30 to submit the details of electoral bonds to the Election Commission of India (ECI), in New Delhi. File

Chief Justice of India (CJI) Justice D.Y. Chandrachud speaks during the hearing of the application of the State Bank of India (SBI) seeking an extension of time till June 30 to submit the details of electoral bonds to the Election Commission of India (ECI), in New Delhi. File | Photo Credit: ANI

The Supreme Court on Monday asked the State of Bank of India (SBI) to be “candid and fair” and not selective while directing it to make a “complete disclosure” of electoral bonds’ data, including their unique hidden alphanumeric and serial numbers, to the Election Commission of India (ECI) for publication.

“The State of Bank of India was expected to give every conceivable detail with it regarding the electoral bonds. Your attitude seems to ‘you tell us to give the details, then we will give’. SBI should not be selective. SBI has to be candid and fair to the court,” Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud, heading a five-judge Bench, addressed the SBI, represented by senior advocate Harish Salve.

Also Read | Why did SBI not give ECI electoral bonds’ numbers to be made public, SC asks

The court said the information on electoral bonds forwarded to the ECI should contain “all details in terms of purchase and in terms of receipt of contributions” to political parties under the electoral bonds scheme.

The Bench directed SBI Chairman Dinesh Kumar Khara to submit an affidavit by 5 p.m. on Thursday in the apex court, stating that “SBI has disclosed all details of electoral bonds which were in its possession and custody and not withheld any information from disclosure”.

Explained | Why did the Supreme Court strike down the electoral bonds scheme?

The ECI has to upload the information “forthwith” as soon as it is given by the bank.

The Bench clarified that its February 15, 2024 judgment striking down the electoral bonds scheme of anonymous political funding had specified the disclosure of data on poll bonds purchased and redeemed with effect from April 12, 2019 till the date of the verdict.

The court dismissed an application filed by an NGO, Citizens Rights Trust, represented by senior advocate Vijay Hansaria and advocate Sneha Kalita for similar disclosure on electoral bonds bought and encashed from March 1, 2018 to April 12, 2019. The NGO had claimed that 9,159 bonds worth ₹4,000 crore were purchased and received by political parties during this period.

The Bench clarified that its judgment had “specifically” directed submission of electoral bonds data from April 12, 2019 and any tinkering now would amount to “substantial modification” of the February 15 verdict.

The Bench said it had taken a conscious decision to keep the cut-off date as April 12, 2019 as that was the date on which the court, through an interim order, had put the stakeholders in the case on notice to provide information.

On March 15, the Supreme Court had issued notice to the SBI on why the latter had not shared the alphanumeric numbers of the electoral bonds with the ECI for publication.

On Monday, the court made it clear that the unique numbers had to be disclosed to give “logical and complete effect to the ruling” of February 15.

The court said the list of details, including date of purchase of electoral bonds, the amount, names of purchasers, the political parties which redeemed the bonds, etc., were only illustrative in nature and not exhaustive.

Watch | Electoral bonds: Who were the biggest donors?

The court had intended the bank to not keep any details back from the ECI.

During the hearing, Mr. Salve said the SBI had no compunction whatsoever to disclose every other detail on the poll bonds.

“We are a public institution. The impression created outside is that the SBI is playing ducks and drakes with the Supreme Court,” Mr. Salve submitted.

Chief Justice Chandrachud questioned the SBI about the “purpose of the alphanumeric numbers”.

“What is the purpose of alphanumeric number? Is it only a security feature or is it to help create an audit trail?” the Chief Justice asked.

The court asked how the redeeming branch had used the alphanumerics on the bonds.

“Did the bank use it to check if the bond was a forged one or not?” Chief Justice Chandrachud queried.

Mr. Salve said the number strip was checked under a ultraviolet light.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, for the Centre, drew the court’s attention to the distortion of facts and numbers, and the “witch-hunting” which had followed the judgment and the publication of the electoral bonds’ data.

“A barrage of social media posts intended to cause embarrassment has started. Statistics are twisted in every manner possible…” Mr. Mehta said.

Chief Justice Chandrachud said the court’s duty was over with the pronouncement of the judgment. “Our intent was disclosure. We are governed by the rule of law,” Chief Justice Chandrachud said.

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