Supreme Court’s responsibility to protect its dignity: Kapil Sibal on SBI plea on electoral bonds issue

On March 4, the SBI moved the apex court, seeking an extension of time till June 30 to disclose the details.

Updated - March 10, 2024 07:20 pm IST

Published - March 10, 2024 06:01 pm IST - New Delhi

Rajya Sabha MP Kapil Sibal. File

Rajya Sabha MP Kapil Sibal. File | Photo Credit: Shiv Kumar Pushpakar

Terming the SBI's reasons for seeking an extension in disclosing electoral bond details "puerile", Rajya Sabha MP Kapil Sibal on March 10 said it is the Supreme Court's responsibility to protect its dignity and that it "would not be easy" to accept the bank's plea when a Constitution bench has rendered a judgement.

Mr. Sibal, who led the argument for the petitioners in the Supreme Court case against the electoral bond scheme, said the State Bank of India (SBI) claiming that it would take several weeks to make the data public sounds like "somebody wants to protect somebody".

In a video interview with PTI, Mr. Sibal claimed it was clear that the SBI intended to protect the government. Otherwise, the bank would not have filed an application seeking an extension till June 30 in disclosing electoral bond details when elections are set to take place in April-May, he said.

The senior advocate's remarks assume significance as they come ahead of a hearing by a five-judge Constitution bench of the Supreme Court on SBI's application seeking an extension to disclose the details of each electoral bond encashed by political parties before the scheme was scrapped last month.

The bench, headed by Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud, will also hear a separate plea which has sought the initiation of contempt action against the bank for "wilfully and deliberately" disobeying the apex court's direction to submit details of the contributions made to political parties through electoral bonds to the Election Commission by March 6.

Mr. Sibal said the SBI knows that elections are in April-May and throughout the period after the election is announced, it would be a subject matter of public debate if the details of the electoral bonds are made public.

Editorial |Dubious response: On the State Bank of India and the Electoral Bond scheme

"They are seeking time and the reasons are obvious and I am sure that the court will see through them. It is puerile for the organisation (SBI) to say that we will have to collate the material, collect the files and then we will have to find out who gave money to whom..this is the 21st century and our dear PM (Narendra Modi) talks about the digitalisation of everything," he said.

"The government in power does not want the names to be declared before the election is over. It is as simple as that," Sibal said.

Asked about the plea that has sought contempt action against the SBI, Mr. Sibal said these are matters on which contempt should be left to the courts.

"This impacts the dignity of the court. It is the court which is responsible for protecting its dignity. If the court is seen to be accepting this specious explanation given by the SBI, which is ex-facie and something laughable, then it is for the court to decide how it will protect its orders," the senior advocate said.

"The fact that the SBI has filed an application itself is probably because it is hoping that the court would relent, but my understanding is that once a constitutional bench has rendered a judgement, it is not going to be easy for the court to say 'we'll accept what you say', but that is for the court to decide," MR. Sibal said.

On whether the Supreme Court's verdict declaring the electoral bonds unconstitutional corrects the nixing of the level playing field, Mr. Sibal said it has still not been corrected.

However, he argued that the court could not have done anything about it at this stage.

"The fact of the matter is that the BJP has in that process enjoyed over Rs 6,000 crore of white money, which is huge in the context of what they can do with those Rs 6,000 crore in the course of an election. So obviously, it (electoral bond scheme) has resulted in a non-level playing field," Mr. Sibal said.

The whole scheme was conceived with a political motive for aggrandising the BJP and making them the richest party in the world, the Independent MP said.

He also claimed that the intent of the scheme as set out in 2017 was to ensure that the money comes into the coffers of the government in power at the Centre.

Mr. Sibal said that with probe agencies such as the Enforcement Directorate and the CBI behaving the way they have done in the last few years, they will be targeting the opposition parties and leaders once the details of the electoral bonds are out before June.

"My worry is in fact that taken to its logical conclusion with the ED being with them and the CBI being part of the so-called establishment, they will be targeting the opposition, and it will create another level of non-level playing field," he added.

Mr. Sibal further said that the opposition parties should have together raised the issue of electoral bonds to corner the government after the Supreme Court verdict.

He, however, acknowledged that the Opposition parties were too involved in trying to settle the seat-sharing issue.

"Fundamentally, that (sharing of seats) is more important for the reason that elections are round the corner, but I think this (electoral bonds) will be a big issue in these elections," the MP said.

"I hope the Supreme Court stands by its direction. If they get the names, then it will be a big issue," he added.

On February 15, a five-judge Constitution bench scrapped the Centre's electoral bonds scheme of anonymous political funding, calling it "unconstitutional" and ordering disclosure by the Election Commission of the donors, the amount donated by them and the recipients by March 13.

Ordering the closure of the scheme, the top court directed the SBI to submit by March 6 the details of the electoral bonds purchased since April 12, 2019, to date to the Election Commission, which was asked to publish the information on its official website by March 13.

On March 4, the SBI moved the apex court, seeking an extension of time till June 30 to disclose the details.

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