Making sense of the electoral bonds data

It is a collection of articles by The Hindu’s reporters that decodes the data provided by SBI regarding electoral bonds.

March 15, 2024 01:31 pm | Updated April 10, 2024 06:49 am IST

Congress workers protest against Non transparent policy of BJP government for not disclosing names of electoral bonds against SBI Bank in Mumbai on Thursday.

Congress workers protest against Non transparent policy of BJP government for not disclosing names of electoral bonds against SBI Bank in Mumbai on Thursday. | Photo Credit: Emmanual Yogini

In a latest development in the electoral bonds case, the Supreme Court on March 18 asked the State Bank of India (SBI) to disclose “full details” related to the electoral bonds, including the alphanumeric number that would disclose the link between the buyer and the recipient political party. It further directed the SBI chairman to file an affidavit before it by 5 p.m. on March 21 indicating that the bank has not withheld any information.

On the orders of the apex court, the SBI had released the electoral bonds data on March 14, which showed that overall 22 companies donated more than ₹100 crore between April 12, 2019 and January 24, 2024. Among political parties, the Bharatiya Janata Party encashed electoral bonds worth ₹6,060.5 crore — the highest among all parties — within this period. However, the unique alphanumeric numbers of individual electoral bonds were not disclosed.

A second set of data was published on March 17 by the Election Commission of India (ECI) on electoral bonds purchased and redeemed by political parties prior to April 12, 2019 show that many of them did not disclose the identities of their donors. This is despite a specific order of the Supreme Court on April 12, 2019 that political parties that benefited from the electoral bonds scheme should confidentially divulge to the EC the “detailed particulars of the donors as against each bond”.

Based on these two data sets, The Hindu has published a series of articles to decode the information provided in the ECI’s website. On analysing the first data report, The Hindu found that a significant number of companies in the top donor list were under the Enforcement Directorate’s or the Income Tax (I-T) department’s scanner at some point of time in the past five years.

Earlier on March 15, a five-judge Constitution bench headed by Chief Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, which was hearing an application filed by the ECI seeking a modification of the operative portion of its March 11 order in the electoral bonds case, directed its registrar (judicial) to ensure that the data filed earlier by the poll panel before it in a sealed cover be scanned and digitised.

It said this be preferably carried out by 5 p.m. on March 16 and once the exercise is completed, the original documents be returned to the ECI.

The ECI had given these documents to the court in sealed envelopes and boxes.

On February 15, the five-judge Bench, in its judgment, had directed the ECI to publish, along with the details of electoral bonds in its possession, the confidential information passed on to the court.

The ready availability of the digitised copy of the documents, that too taken by the Supreme Court itself, would help avert any delay in the publication of these records regarding the electoral bonds.

The SBI had said 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. While the remaining 187 were redeemed and the money was deposited in the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund, in accordance with the scheme’s rules.

While the data on electoral bonds has been released, The Hindu looks to make sense of the data and the takeaways from the Supreme Court verdict.

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