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SBI refuses to disclose electoral bonds’ details under RTI Act

New Delhi: The State Bank of India (SBI) has refused to disclose under the RTI Act the details of the electoral bonds furnished to the Election Commission (EC), claiming that it is personal information held in a fiduciary capacity, even though the records are in the public domain on the poll panel’s website.

Holding that the electoral bonds scheme was “unconstitutional and manifestly arbitrary”, the Supreme Court directed the SBI on February 15 to furnish the complete details of the bonds purchased since April 12, 2019 to the EC, which would publish the information on its website by March 13.

On March 11, the court dismissed the SBI’s petition seeking an extension of the deadline and ordered it to disclose the details of the electoral bonds to the EC by the close of business hours on March 12.

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RTI activist Commodore (retired) Lokesh Batra approached the SBI on March 13 seeking the complete data of the electoral bonds in the digital form, as provided to the EC after the Supreme Court’s order.

The bank denied the information citing two exemption clauses given under the Right to Information (RTI) Act — section 8(1)(e) that is related to records held in a fiduciary capacity and section 8(1)(j) that allows 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 sought the details of the fees paid by the SBI to senior advocate Harish Salve to defend its case against the disclosure of the electoral bonds’ records, citing that the records are held in a fiduciary capacity and the information is personal in nature.

It is “bizzare” that the SBI denied the information that is already on the EC’s website, Batra told PTI.

On the question of Salve’s fee, he said the bank has denied information that involves taxpayers’ money.

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.

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