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SBI refuses to disclose electoral bonds data under RTI Act despite being available in public domain

The Election Commission of India (ECI) on March 21 published the complete electoral bond data submitted by the State Bank of India (SBI) on the orders of the Supreme Court (SC).

Edited By: Arushi Jaiswal @JaiswalArushi New Delhi Updated on: April 11, 2024 15:53 IST
SBI, electoral bonds
Image Source : FILE PHOTO Representative image

Electoral bonds: Even though the complete data are in the public domain on the Election Commission's website, the State Bank of India (SBI) has refused to disclose the details of the electoral bonds under the RTI Act, claiming that it is personal information held in a fiduciary capacity.

RTI activist Commodore (retired) Lokesh Batra approached the SBI on March 13, requesting the complete data of the electoral bonds in digital form, as submitted to the Election Commission following the Supreme Court's directive.

SBI cited two exemption clauses

Despite the availability of the information to the public on the Election Commission website, the bank declined to disclose details of the electoral bonds scheme, citing two exemption clauses under the Right to Information (RTI) Act -- section 8(1)(e), which pertains to records held in a fiduciary capacity, and section 8(1)(j), which permits withholding personal information.

"Information sought by you is containing details of purchasers and political parties and hence, cannot be disclosed as it is held in fiduciary capacity disclosure of which is exempted under sections 8(1)(e) and (j) of the RTI Act," the response furnished by the central public information officer and deputy general manager of the SBI said on Wednesday.

Batra had also requested information regarding the fees paid by the SBI to senior advocate Harish Salve for representing the bank in its case against the disclosure of electoral bonds' records. The bank cited that these records are held in a fiduciary capacity and that the information is personal in nature.

What did RTI activist say?

Batra expressed his dismay, stating that it is "bizarre" for the SBI to deny information that is already available on the Election Commission's website. 

Regarding Salve's fee, he highlighted that the bank refused to disclose information concerning taxpayers' money.

Electoral bonds data available on Election Commission website

The Supreme Court, deeming the electoral bonds scheme "unconstitutional and manifestly arbitrary," instructed the SBI on February 15 to provide comprehensive details of the bonds purchased since April 12, 2019, to the EC. The EC was then directed to publish this information on its website by March 13. 

The EC published the data furnished by the SBI on its website on March 14, with the details of the donors and political parties that redeemed the bonds.

On March 15, the apex court pulled up the SBI for not furnishing the complete information by withholding the numbers unique to each electoral bond that would help match the donors with the recipient political parties, saying the bank was "duty-bound" to reveal the information.

A five-judge bench headed by Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud said it had directed the disclosure of all the details of the bonds, including the names of the purchasers, amounts and dates of purchase.

All details have to be furnished by the SBI, the CJI observed, as the court admonished the bank for furnishing incomplete information, a day after the EC put out the entire list of entities that purchased the bonds for making political donations.

The SBI had said a total of 22,217 electoral bonds of varying denominations were purchased by the donors between April 1, 2019 and February 15 this year, of which 22,030 were redeemed by political parties.

(With PTI inputs)

Also Read: SBI submits electoral bonds details with serial numbers to Election Commission 

Also Read: SC pulls up SBI over Electoral Bonds, asks to file affidavit stating it has not suppressed any info

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