Supreme Court warns SBI of ‘wilful disobedience,’ orders immediate disclosure

Image of the Supreme Court of India from Wikimedia Commons.

The Wire New Delhi, March 11, 2024

The Supreme Court on Monday (March 11) dismissed the application of the State Bank of India (SBI) for an extension in complying with the Court’s earlier directive on providing details related to Electoral Bonds.

The Court, noting that the necessary information is already available with the bank, has instructed the SBI to disclose the information by the close of business hours on March 12.

On February 15, the top Court struck down the Electoral Bonds scheme declaring it unconstitutional and saying that anonymous Electoral Bonds are violative of the right to information and Article 19(1)(a).

As part of the ruling, the issuing bank, SBI, was directed to submit details of Electoral Bonds purchased since April 12, 2019, to the Election Commission of India by March 6.

However, the SBI filed an application seeking an extension until June 30, well after the Lok Sabha elections to be held this year, citing the ‘complexity of decoding and compiling data’ from the sale of these bonds.

From our Archives
Verdict on Electoral Bonds puts the Federal Government in study mode

Complexity of matching claimed

A bench of Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud, and Justices Sanjiv Khanna, B R Gavai, J B Pardiwala and Manoj Misra was hearing SBI’s extension plea along with contempt petitions filed by Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), Common Cause, and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) against the public sector bank over its non-disclosure of vital details related to the bonds, LiveLaw reported.

Senior advocate Harish Salve, representing the SBI, said that the donor details and redemption details of the bonds were stored in separate information silos and the delay is being caused due to the complexity of the matching exercise.

In response to this, Chief Justice Chandrachud pointed out that the Court’s directions did not require the bank to conduct a ‘matching exercise’ but simply to disclose the information. The Chief Justice also noted that the bank had all the necessary details, as evidenced by its KYC records, the report said. This suggests the SBI does not have to disclose which bonds went to which parties.

‘What have you done in 26 days?’

The Court also questioned the SBI’s silence on the progress made in the 26 days since the judgment was issued.

Salve assured the Court that details relating to the progress would be placed on record in an affidavit. “Our judgment was issued on February 15. Today, it is March 11. In the last 26 days, what is the extent of matching done by you? The affidavit is silent on this. We expect a degree of candour from the State Bank of India,” the Court said.

“We have the details, I am not saying we do not have them,” Salve told the Court, before reiterating that the difficulty was caused because of the siloisation of the information recorded by SBI.

“We were told that this was supposed to be secret. That is how we devised the mechanism. We don’t want to now create any havoc by making any mistake,” Salve argued. However, Justice Khanna said, “There is no question of any mistake. You have the KYC. You are the Number 1 Bank in the country. We expect you to handle it.”

The bank, in its submissions, had indicated that all purchasing details were kept in a sealed cover at the main branch. Justice Khanna pointed this out and said, “Simply open up the sealed cover, collate the names, and furnish the details.”

Details sought from the SBI include the date of purchase, name of purchaser and denomination of each electoral bond. Additionally, details of bonds cashed by political parties, including the date of such encashment, were also required.

The Final Order

The Court, in its final order, said “The State Bank of India has submitted that the donor details and redemption details are available, albeit in separate silos. In other words, the direction issued by this Court requires the bank to disclose information which is already available to it. “As regards the Election Commission of India, we direct them to compile the information and publish the information on their website no later than by 5 pm on March 15, 2024,” the order said.

The bench also asked the Election Commission of India (ECI) to publish the details of the information supplied to the Court in pursuance of its interim order, passed in November last year, on the Commission’s website. In that order, the Court had asked the ECI for details of the funds received by all the political parties through Electoral Bonds till September 30 in a sealed cover.

When asked about the new March 12 deadline set for SBI by the Supreme Court, an ECI spokesman said, “No comments.”

Contempt Petition

While refusing to initiate contempt proceedings against SBI, the Court said that it would be inclined to proceed against it for wilfully disobeying its order in the event of non-compliance with the latest directions, LiveLaw reported.

“The State Bank of India shall file an affidavit of its Chairperson and Managing Director on compliance with the directions issued above. While we are not inclined to exercise the contempt jurisdiction at this time, we place the State Bank of India on notice that this Court may be inclined to proceed against it for wilful disobedience if it does not comply with the timelines indicated in this order,” Chief Justice Chandrachud said.

On March 7, advocate Prashant Bhushan, representing ADR and Common Cause, requested an urgent hearing for their contempt petition urging the Court to list it with the SBI’s extension plea scheduled to be heard on March 11.

The above Report and pictures have been published under a special agreement with The Wire India.

Share this story

Related Stories

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Indian Newslink

Previous slide
Next slide

Advertisement

Previous slide
Next slide

Advertisement

Previous slide
Next slide

Advertisement

Previous slide
Next slide

Advertisement

Previous slide
Next slide

Advertisement

Advertisement

Previous slide
Next slide

Advertisement

Previous slide
Next slide

Advertisement

Previous slide
Next slide

Advertisement