Supreme Court quashes plea, orders SBI to disclose electoral bond details by Tuesday [11.3.2024]

The Supreme Court has denied State Bank of India (SBI)'s request for an extension to disclose details of electoral bonds encashed by political parties since April 2019, to June 30.

A five-judge Constitution bench led by Chief Justice of India (CJI) DY Chandrachud with Justices Sanjiv Khanna, BR Gavai, JB Pardiwala and Manoj Misra passed the judgement on Monday, ordering the bank to disclose details by March 12. The Election Commission has been directed to publish this information by March 15.

The bench also heard a plea to initiate action against SBI for contempt of court, as the bank failed to meet the court's deadline.

The bank was set a deadline of March 6 to disclose details to the Election Commission of India (ECI) ahead of the Lok Sabha elections. The directions came after the electoral bonds scheme was struck down on February 15. The apex court dubbed the scheme, which allowed anonymous political funding, "unconstitutional" and ordered SBI to disclose the donors' recipients and their respective donations made since April 12, 2019. 

SBI moved to the top court on March 4, seeking an extension of this deadline till June 30 to disclose details of electoral bonds encashed by political parties. The bank cited the process of matching donations to donors as a complex process as stringent measures had been undertaken to help maintain anonymity under the scheme.

Representing SBI, Senior Advocate Harish Salve argued that the bank needed additional time to submit details of electoral bonds to the ECI, and that they did not want to "make a mistake" in its documentation. Salve added that since the system was meant to be anonymous, there were no names in the core system, as KYC details were not stored digitally. Therefore, details on the donor and recipient of purchase are in two different silos that require to be matched.

The SC responded to the bank by stating that it had directed plain disclosure of donations and not to conduct a "matching exercise." SC asked SBI what it had been doing for the last 26 days and added that all donor details existed in the same place.

CJI pointed to Clause 7(4) of the electoral bonds scheme which stipulated that while electoral bond purchasers would be treated with confidentiality by the authorised bank, they "shall be disclosed when called upon to do so or registration of an offence by a law enforcement agency." Thus, SBI was mandated to disclose information when demanded.
Commenting on the Supreme Court's verdict, petitioner Jaya Thakur told ANI, "Supreme Court understood the seriousness of the matter and issued strict order for the bank (SBI) to submit all documents by tomorrow. I think this is a great decision."

11 Mar 2024