Wednesday, June 19, 2024

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    SBI Submits Compliance Affidavit to Supreme Court Regarding Electoral Bonds, Presents Two Separate Sets

    The affidavit said that 22,217 bonds were purchased between April 1, 2019, and February 15, 2024, and the total number of bonds redeemed during this period was 22,030

    The State Bank of India (SBI) chairman on Wednesday filed an affidavit of compliance in the Supreme Court, informing it that the entire details of electoral bonds (EB) purchased since April 1, 2019, have been submitted to the Election Commission of India (ECI) by the deadline set down by the court in its order on Monday.

    According to the affidavit of SBI chairman Dinesh Kumar Khara, the documents furnished to ECI include two sets of information — one containing the names of political parties and the details regarding the bonds redeemed by them, while the other having the details of EB purchasers.

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    The affidavit said that 22,217 bonds were purchased between April 1, 2019, and February 15, 2024, and the total number of bonds redeemed during this period was 22,030. The 187 bonds not redeemed within the validity period of 15 days were transferred to the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund in accordance with a 2018 gazette notification.

    “The State Bank of India has ready records in which the date of purchase, denomination and name of the buyer were recorded, and (in relation to the political parties) the date of encashment and the denominations of the bonds encashed were recorded. In respectful compliance with the aforesaid directions, before the close of business hours on 12.03.2024 a record of this information was made available to the ECI by hand delivering in digital form (password protected),” stated the affidavit.

    Tough the court ordered SBI to submit details of EBs purchased since April 12, 2019 – when the court issued an interim direction to parties to submit information of EBs with the ECI, SBI submitted details of bonds purchased since April 1, 2019. According to the sole EB-issuing bank in the country, the sale of EBs in that specific period commenced on April 1, 2019, and not April 12, 2019.

    The affidavit also annexed a related letter by the concerned SBI official to the chief election commissioner dated March 12 when the information was supplied. This letter disclosed that the information was shared with ECI in a sealed envelope on Tuesday. The envelope contained a pen drive with two password-protected PDF files in it — one file listed the names of the political parties redeeming the bonds, and the other contained information about the people who bought the electoral bonds.

    “Both the PDF files are stored in a pen drive. Both the PDF files are password protected and an envelope containing the passwords for opening these files is enclosed with this letter,” stated SBI’s letter to ECI on Tuesday.

    ECI is supposed to make public the information submitted by SBI by posting such details on its website by 5pm on March 15, as directed by the top court on Monday.

    SBI had earlier this month approached the Supreme Court with a plea for granting it time till June 30 to submit details of EBs purchased since April 12, 2019, arguing that “decoding” the data and matching donors to recipients would be a “complex process”. The state-owned bank claimed that it has information in two separate silos in so far as details of EBs purchased and redemption of bonds by political parties are concerned. It added that matching the information to ascertain who contributed to which political party was a time-consuming process and thus, the plea for extension till June 30 was moved.

    But, on Monday, a five-judge Constitution bench led by Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud rejected the SBI’s plea, noting that the required information was “readily available” with the bank, and giving it time until the business hours of March 12 to do so.

    The top court also warned the bank of being proceeded against under the contempt charge for the “wilful disobedience” if it failed to adhere to the direction and the timeline set down in the Monday order.

    The court order on Monday did not explicitly instruct SBI to provide information to the ECI following the correlation of donor data with political party affiliations. While most of the information about political parties’ EB redemptions is already available to the public, the related donor data is not. Given the thrust of the bank’s petition — it claimed the correlation would take time — it is expected that the data that will be made public is two disparate sets, one on sales of bonds and another on redemptions. However, anyone looking at the data may be able to determine some kind of correlation because the data to be provided also includes dates and denominations of EBs and that the rules further provided that parties must encash EBs within the validity period of 15 days.

    The five-judge bench, also comprising justices Sanjiv Khanna, BR Gavai, JB Pardiwala and Manoj Misra, had on February 15 struck down the Centre’s 2018 EB scheme of political funding, declaring it to be “unconstitutional” because it completely anonymised contributions made to political parties, and added that restricting black money or illegal election financing — some of the articulated objectives of the scheme — did not justify violating voters’ right to information in a disproportionate manner.

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