SC Rebukes SBI Again: CJI Demands Full Disclosure on Electoral Bonds; Affidavit Required Within 3 Days, No Concealment Allowed

The Supreme Court is currently conducting hearings regarding the refusal to disclose information regarding the unique alphanumeric numbers associated with electoral bonds. On March 16, the court had issued a notice to the State Bank of India (SBI) regarding this matter. The court had demanded answers from the bank by March 18 regarding their refusal to provide details about the bond numbers.

Chief Justice Dipak Misra, along with Justices Sanjiv Khanna, B.R. Gavai, B.V. Nagarathna, and Manoj Misra, sternly admonished SBI. Chief Justice Misra instructed SBI’s lawyer, Harish Salve, stating, “We had directed you to bring all details. This includes details about the bond numbers.” SBI was warned that failure to disclose this information would not be acceptable. The court’s stance remains firm, awaiting compliance with their orders.

CJI Directs SBI to Disclose Specific Information

Chief Justice Dipak Misra remarked that SBI desires to be informed about what information they are expected to disclose, which seems unwarranted. The bench’s decision on March 11 had directed SBI to provide comprehensive details including the bond, purchase date, purchaser’s name, and complete category information. 

However, SBI had only provided information regarding bond purchasers and the amounts transacted, without specifying which donor contributed to which political party and how much. This crucial data has not been made public yet. It is expected that these unique alphanumeric numbers will facilitate identification.

Courtroom Live:

Mukul Rohatgi: I am here on behalf of FICCI and ASSOCHAM. We have filed an application.

CJI: I haven’t received any such application.

Rohatgi: This concerns the electoral bond numbers.

CJI: We have already provided instructions regarding this matter. You are repeating yourself. We cannot keep listening to you endlessly.

Justice Gavai: The entire world knows that this case has commenced.

CJI: I am not under anyone’s thumb. If you want to file an application, do so. We cannot keep listening to you.

Justice Gavai: (to Nedumpara) Have you been served a contempt notice? 

Adish Aggarwala, head of SCBA, had submitted an application for review, which had caught the bench’s attention.

CJI: After being a senior advocate, you are the head of SCBA. You know the procedure. You had even written a letter to me. This is all for publicity. Let’s leave that aside. Do you have anything else to say?

CJI: We had sent a notice to SBI.

Harish Salve: I represent SBI.

CJI: We had instructed to bring all details. This includes details about the bond numbers. SBI’s reluctance is evident. This is not acceptable. Do not test our patience. If you have any information about the bond, provide it.

CJI: SBI wants us to inform them about what information we want them to disclose, and they will provide it. This seems unjustifiable.

Political Parties Demand Electoral Bond Numbers

According to information available on the Election Commission’s website, several political parties have demanded the unique numbers of electoral bonds from the State Bank of India (SBI). The Trinamool Congress has stated that it needs these numbers to comply with the directives of the Supreme Court. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has not lodged any such appeal with SBI.

The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) has mentioned that it has not received any donations through electoral bonds. The Communist Party of India (Marxist) has also stated that it has not received any donations through electoral bonds. The Congress party has mentioned that it will disclose the data provided by SBI regarding the electoral bonds to the Election Commission.

BJP Blocks Rs. 6,986 Crore Worth of Electoral Bonds

According to the registration of the Supreme Court’s registry on Sunday (March 17), the BJP has blocked the new data of electoral bonds obtained on March 16, which has been uploaded on their website. The new data includes bond information for the financial year 2017-18.

As per the information, the BJP has blocked a total of Rs. 6,986 crore worth of electoral bonds. The party has received the highest amount of Rs. 2,555 crore in the financial year 2019-20. At the same time, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) received Rs. 656.5 crore through electoral bonds, including Rs. 509 crore from lottery king Santiago Martin’s Future Gaming.

Earlier on March 14, the commission had uploaded information about the bonds purchased or cashed after April 2019 in two lists totaling 763 pages on their website. One list contained information about bond purchasers, while the other contained details of bonds received by political parties. Following the directives of the Supreme Court, SBI had provided the bond-related information to the commission on March 14.

Developments in the Electoral Bond Case

The Supreme Court has been actively involved in overseeing the case related to electoral bonds, which has witnessed significant progress leading up to the present.

March 11, 2024: The Supreme Court conducted a hearing regarding the submission of information on electoral bonds. This hearing was in response to the application filed by the State Bank of India (SBI). SBI assured the court that there were no issues in providing the information related to electoral bonds but requested some additional time. Chief Justice DY Chandrachud inquired about the delay since the last hearing on February 15, questioning the actions taken during the intervening 26 days.

March 4, 2024: SBI filed an application in the Supreme Court requesting an extension until June 30 to provide information regarding electoral bonds. Alongside this, the court also conducted a hearing on the application filed by the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), wherein SBI faced criticism for not providing information by March 6, resulting in contempt proceedings.

February 15, 2024: The Supreme Court imposed an interim ban on the electoral bond scheme for political funding, citing its non-transparency and lack of confidentiality. The court stated that the scheme’s secrecy undermines the right to information. It also deemed the scheme’s lack of transparency regarding donor information as unconstitutional. The court directed political parties to disclose information about donations received through electoral bonds until September 30.

November 2, 2023: The Supreme Court kept its decision pending in the case concerning the electoral bond scheme. It refrained from announcing the date for the upcoming elections, stating that revealing such information would compromise the secrecy of the bonded data. Instead, the court directed parties to disclose donation data received through electoral bonds until September 30.

November 1, 2023: Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the government, argued that electoral bonds ensure transparency in political donations. Donors are not keen on disclosing their contributions to other parties, thus preventing potential backlash. The Supreme Court questioned how the ruling party accesses information about opposition donations if the opposition cannot obtain donation details.

October 31, 2023: Prashant Bhushan, a petitioner in the case, presented arguments. He contended that electoral bonds merely serve to influence government decisions. Bhushan emphasized the citizen’s right to know about candidates, their assets, and criminal history. He questioned who benefits from electoral bonds in terms of influencing political decisions.

Controversy Surrounding the Electoral Bond Scheme

The Electoral Bond Scheme has been mired in controversy since its inception in 2017, primarily due to claims made by Arun Jaitley at the time of its introduction, asserting that it would bring transparency to political party funding and electoral processes. However, critics argued that the scheme fails to publicly disclose the identity of individuals purchasing bonds, potentially providing a conduit for illicit funds in elections.

Subsequently, although the scheme was introduced in 2017, it wasn’t subject to scrutiny until the 2019 elections. On April 12, 2019, the Supreme Court directed all political parties to submit relevant information concerning electoral bonds to the Election Commission by May 30, 2019, under a single cover. However, the court did not stay the scheme at that time.

Later, in December 2019, the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) filed a petition seeking to stall the scheme. Media reports indicated concerns raised by the Election Commission and the Reserve Bank of India regarding the disregard by the central government for apprehensions surrounding the Electoral Bond Scheme.

Niyati Rao

Niyati Rao is a seasoned writer and avid consumer who specializes in crafting informative and engaging articles and product reviews. With a passion for research and a knack for finding the best deals, Niyati enjoys helping readers make informed decisions about their purchases.