Court to SBI: Give Poll Bond Details in 1 Day, Not 3 Months!

The Supreme Court on Monday dismissed the State Bank of India’s plea seeking extension of time till June 30 and directed it to furnish the details of electoral bonds to the Election Commission by close of business hours on March 12 .

A five-judge Constitution bench headed by Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud also directed the EC to publish the details shared by the bank on its official website by 5 pm on March 15 .

The bench, also comprising Justices Sanjiv Khanna, B R Gavai, J B Pardiwala, and Manoj Misra, put the SBI on notice that the apex court may be inclined to proceed against it for “wilful disobedience” of its February 15 verdict if the bank failed to comply with its directions and timelines .

What are electoral bonds?

Electoral bonds are a form of anonymous political funding that allow donors to purchase bonds from SBI and give them to political parties, who can encash them within 15 days. The scheme was introduced by the Centre in 2018 through amendments in the Finance Act 2017 and related laws .

The scheme was challenged by various petitioners, including NGOs and political parties, who argued that it violated the principles of transparency and accountability in political funding and enabled money laundering and corruption .

What did the SC say in its February 15 verdict?

In a landmark verdict delivered on February 15, a five-judge Constitution bench had scrapped the Centre’s electoral bonds scheme that allowed anonymous political funding, calling it “unconstitutional” and ordered disclosure by the EC of donors, the amount donated by them and the recipients by March 13 .

Ordering the closure of the scheme, the top court directed the SBI, the authorised financial institution under the scheme, to submit by March 6 the details of the electoral bonds purchased since April 12, 2019, till date to the Election Commission .

The court held that the non-disclosure of information regarding the funding of political parties is violative of the right to information of citizens under Article 19 of the Constitution. The court also struck down the amendments which were introduced by the Finance Act 2017 to the provisions of the Companies Act permitting unlimited funding of political parties by corporates as arbitrary and violative of Article 14 of the constitution .

Why did SBI seek more time?

SBI filed an application before the SC on March 4 seeking extension of time till June 30 to furnish the details of electoral bonds, citing technical difficulties and logistical challenges due to COVID-19 pandemic .

The bank said that it had to collect data from over 100 branches across India where electoral bonds were issued and that it required time to verify and collate the information in a proper format .

The bank also said that it had to conduct a “matching exercise” to link the purchasers of electoral bonds with the political parties who redeemed them, which was a complex and time-consuming task .

How did the SC react?

The SC rejected SBI’s plea for more time and said that it was not satisfied with its reasons for delay. The court said that SBI had ample time since February 15 to comply with its order and that it should have anticipated the technical issues and taken steps to overcome them .

The court also clarified that SBI need not conduct a “matching exercise” as it asked the bank to disclose electoral bond details by March 12. The court said that SBI will just need to furnish details of who purchased electoral bonds, their worth, and the amount that political parties received through the now-scrapped scheme. Thus, the state-run bank doesn’t need to provide details of who donated how much to which political party .

The court warned SBI chairman and managing director of being proceeded against for contempt if they fail to comply with its order within the timeline .

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