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Electoral bonds | Comply with judgment, says CJI as SBI tells it is difficult to match donors

The Supreme Court on March 11 heard the application filed by the State Bank of India (SBI) seeking an extension till June 30 to disclose details of each electoral bond encashed by political parties before the scheme was scrapped last month.

“We have not told you to match the details. We have only asked you for a plain disclosure. You simply comply with the judgment,” Chief Justice D.Y. Chandrachud told the SBI. The bank said, “We have to reverse the whole process”.

“SBI is before us. There should be some candour on your part. What have you been doing for the past 26 days? There is no word about that in your application. For every purchase, there was a KYC. So you have the details,” the CJI said.

The bank said there is no doubt it has the details, but relating the purchase to the donors will take time.

A five-judge Constitution Bench headed by CJI also heard a separate plea, which has sought initiation of contempt action against the SBI alleging, it “willfully and deliberately” disobeyed the apex court’s direction to submit details of the contributions made to political parties through electoral bonds to the Election Commission by March 6.

The apex court Bench, also comprising justices Sanjiv Khanna, B.R. Gavai, J B Pardiwala, and Manoj Misra, assembled at 10.30 a.m. to hear the two petitions.

As the SBI said it has details of purchases, Justice Sanjiv Khanna said details are in a sealed cover, open the sealed cover and reveal the details. Justice B.R. Gavai told the bank to comply with what is in black and white in the judgment.

The CJI further said the top court will direct the Election Commission of India to divulge right now whatever it has given to the Supreme Court in a sealed cover. He referred to how “SBI has an Assistant General Manager to file an application seeking more time to comply with a Constitution Bench judgment of the Supreme Court”.

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

The top court subsequently directed the SBI, the authorized financial institution under the scheme, to submit by March 6 the details of the electoral bonds purchased from April 12, 2019, till date to the Election Commission, which was asked to publish the information on its official website by March 13.

On March 4, the SBI moved the apex court seeking an extension till June 30 to disclose the details of the electoral bonds encashed by political parties.

The SBI contended that retrieval of information from “each silo” and the procedure of matching the information of one silo to that of the other would be a time-consuming exercise.

The application said due to stringent measures undertaken to ensure that the identity of the donors was kept anonymous, “decoding” the electoral bonds and matching the donors to the donations would be a complex process.

Later, a separate petition was filed in the apex court seeking initiation of contempt proceedings against the SBI for alleged disobedience of the apex court’s directives.

The contempt plea, filed by NGOs Association for Democratic Reforms and Common Cause, claimed SBI’s application seeking an extension of time had been deliberately filed at the last moment to ensure that details of donors and the amount of donations were not disclosed to the public before the upcoming Lok Sabha elections.

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