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SC dismisses SBI plea, wants data on electoral bonds in one day

Top court tells Election Commission to publish details of bonds by 5 pm on Friday, 15 March

SC dismisses SBI plea, wants data on electoral bonds in one day
[Source photo: Chetan Jha/Press Insider]

The Supreme Court on Monday dismissed the State Bank of India’s (SBI’s) plea seeking an extension to furnish the details of electoral bonds and ordered it to share the information with the Election Commission by Tuesday, 12 March.

A five-judge Constitution bench of the top court headed by Chief Justice of India D. Y. Chandrachud also directed the poll body to publish the details on its official website by 5 pm on 15 March.

Earlier last month, the apex court struck down the electoral bond scheme, a political funding tool that allowed anonymous donations to parties, calling it a violation of freedom of speech and expression enshrined in the Constitution.

The apex court ordered SBI, the nodal bank that issued the bonds, to provide details of such bonds purchased from 12 April 2019 to the Election Commission by 6 March.

SBI, however, said more time was needed for collating the details and matching them as the information was kept in two silos. The lender sought an extension till 30 June to disclose the details. 

Senior advocate Harish Salve, appearing for SBI, said the bank can complete the exercise within three weeks if the matching exercise is to be done away with. 

The bench, also comprising Justices Sanjiv Khanna, B. R. Gavai, J. B. Pardiwala, and Manoj Misra, said it had not directed for matching details of donors and donees with other information.

SBI has to just open the sealed cover, collate the details, and give the information to the Election Commission, the apex court said. 

The court also asked SBI to file a report on what actions have been taken to comply with the 15 February order scrapping the electoral bond scheme. 

“In the past 26 days, what steps have you taken? Your application is silent on that,” the bench said.

Notified by the central government on 2 January 2018, the scheme allowed any citizen or entity incorporated in India to buy electoral bonds without disclosing their identity.

In its 15 February order, the Supreme Court quashed the amendments that made anonymous contributions to political parties through the scheme possible.

Holding the scheme violative of freedom of speech and expression, the judgment said, “Electoral Bonds Scheme, proviso to Section 29(1)(c) as amended by Section 139 of Income Tax Act and Section 13(b) as amended by Finance Act 2017 is violative of Article 19(1)(a).” 

Holding that the fundamental right to privacy also includes citizens’ right to political privacy and affiliation, the top court said that while the privacy of donors is important, transparency in political funding cannot be achieved by granting absolute exemptions. 

“Economic inequality leads to differing level of political engagements. Access to info leads to influencing policy making and also leading to quid pro quo arrangements may also help a party by the party in power,” the court said. 

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