SC says SBI ‘duty bound’ to disclose electoral bond number, issues notice to SBI

The State Bank of India is “duty bound” and has to disclose the unique alpha numeric numbers of the electoral bonds received by political parties, the Supreme Court said on Friday while seeking a response from the bank for not doing so.

A five-judge bench headed by Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud said the apex court in its verdict on electoral bonds case had directed the disclosure of all the details of bonds, including the purchaser, amount and date of purchase. All details have to be furnished by the SBI, the CJI observed a day after the Election Commission put out the entire list of entities that have purchased electoral bonds for making political donations. The bench, also comprising Justices Sanjiv Khanna, B R Gavai, J B Pardiwala and Manoj Misra, issued notice to the SBI and posted the matter for hearing on March 18. “Who is appearing for the SBI? Because in our judgement, we had directed disclosure specifically of all details of the bonds including the purchaser, the amount and the date of purchase. They have not disclosed the bond numbers. That has to be disclosed by the SBI,” the CJI said, pulling up the bank.

The unique alpha numeric numbers would match those who had purchased the electoral bonds to the parties they were donating to.

“They (SBI) have not disclosed the bond numbers. That has to be disclosed by the SBI,” the CJI said. “But really speaking, we can take exception to what they have disclosed because they were duty bound,” he added.

The apex court was hearing an application filed by the Election Commission seeking a modification of the operative portion of its March 11 order in the electoral bonds case. It directed the registrar (judicial) to ensure that the data filed earlier by the poll panel before it in a sealed cover be scanned and digitised.

The EC’s counsel said they have filed an application for a minor modification of the March 11 order, which also directed that the poll panel shall upload on its website the data furnished to the court.

He said the EC had not retained any copy of the data which was earlier filed in the court since it was placed in sealed cover.

“While issuing this direction, the court had presumed that a copy of the data which was lodged before the registry of this court would be available with the EC,” the bench said.

In its application, the EC requested the apex court that the documents be returned to it so as to enable it to comply with the March 11 order for uploading the documents.

“The registrar (judicial) of this court shall ensure that the data which has been filed by the ECI in pursuance of interim orders of this court is scanned and digitised,” the bench said. It added that this exercise may preferably be carried out by 5 pm on Saturday.

Once this exercise is completed, the original documents shall be returned to the EC’s counsel and the poll panel shall then upload the data on its website on or before the day after.

The bench said a copy of the scanned and digitised file shall also be made available to the EC’s counsel.

Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, who was appearing in the matter, said the apex court’s verdict was quite clear that SBI shall furnish all the details of electoral bonds to the EC.

Advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing for the petitioner NGO, said the SBI had said in its application filed in the top court seeking extension of time to furnish the details to EC that it has the bond numbers.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said he was appearing for the Centre and not for the SBI. “Would your lordships consider issuing notice to SBI. They may have something to say,” he said.

“They should be here when the matter is going on,” the bench said.

Mehta said the SBI was not a party in the case and they were before the court when they filed an application which was disposed of.

“The judgement of the Constitution bench required the SBI to furnish to EC all details of the electoral bonds purchased, and as the case may be, redeemed by political parties including the date of purchase… It has been submitted that the SBI has not disclosed the alpha-numeric numbers of the electoral bonds,” the bench said.

“We direct the registry to issue notice to SBI returnable on Monday (March 18),” it said.

In its March 11 order, the top court had dismissed SBI’s plea seeking an extension of time and ordered it to disclose the details of electoral bonds to the EC by close of business hours on March 12.

The court had also directed the EC to publish the details shared by the bank on its official website by 5 pm on March 15.

The EC put up on its website the data on electoral bonds on Thursday, a day before the deadline.

In its application filed in the apex court, the poll panel had said the March 11 order had noted that the copies of the documents submitted by it to the court in sealed cover during the course of the hearing be maintained at the office of the EC.

The application had said that following the directions passed by the apex court in its April 12, 2019 and November 2 last year orders, the EC had produced information/data so sought, both in a sealed cover (containing 106 sealed envelopes) and in sealed boxes (containing 309 and 214 sealed envelopes respectively).

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