Reveal details by March 21': SC hauls up SBI once again

The bench said there was no manner of doubt that SBI is required to make complete disclosure of all details which are in its possession

New Delhi: In a stinging rebuke to the State Bank of India, the Supreme Court on Monday told it to stop being “selective” and make a “complete disclosure” of all details on the now-scrapped electoral bonds scheme by March 21 to the Election Commission. A five-judge Constitution Bench headed by Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud said the details to be disclosed include the unique bond numbers that will reveal the link between buyers and recipient political parties.

The bench said there was “no manner of doubt that the SBI is required to make complete disclosure of all details” which are in its possession.

The bench, also comprising Justices Sanjiv Khanna, B.R. Gavai, J.B. Pardiwala and Manoj Misra, said the EC shall forthwith upload on its website the details received from the State bank of India.

In a landmark verdict, a five-judge Constitution Bench had scrapped the scheme, terming it “unconstitutional”, and ordered disclosure by the EC of donors, the amount donated by them and the recipients by March 13.

On March 11, the SBI, which unsuccessfully argued for an extension of time till June 30 to disclose electoral bonds details, faced searching questions from the top court which wanted to know about the steps taken to comply with its directions.

On Friday, the top court admonished the SBI for furnishing incomplete information and issued a notice to the bank to explain the reasons for the non-disclosure of unique alphanumeric numbers.

During the hearing on Monday, the bench noted the submission of senior advocate Harish Salve, representing the SBI, that there was no reservation on the part of the bank in disclosing all the details of electoral bonds which are in its possession.

“In order to fully effectuate the order and to obviate any controversy in the future, the chairman and managing director of SBI shall file an affidavit on or before 5 pm on Thursday (March 21) indicating that SBI has disclosed all details of the electoral bonds which were in its possession and custody and that no details have been withheld,” the bench said.

During the proceedings, the bench asked the SBI to disclose all conceivable information on electoral bonds, including bond serial numbers, if any.

“We had asked all details to be disclosed by the SBI which includes electoral bond numbers as well. Let SBI not be selective in disclosure,” the bench mentioned orally.

The apex court had, in its verdict in the electoral bonds case, asked the bank to disclose all the details of the bonds and it should not wait for further orders on this aspect, the bench said.

The top court refused a hearing on unlisted pleas of industry bodies, Associated Chambers of Commerce & Industry of India and Confederation of Indian Industry in the case. The industry bodies, through senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, wanted an urgent hearing on their interim application against the disclosure of the bond details.

Mr Salve told the bench it should not seem that the bank is “playing with” the court as it had no difficulty in disclosing the details of electoral bonds.

Advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing for the petitioner NGO in the case, said that major political parties have not given the donor details and only some parties have given it.

“There is enough assistance by public-spirited citizens,” solicitor-general Tushar Mehta said, claiming that these sponsored NGOs are “fudging figures”.

The apex court also refused to take note of a letter by senior advocate Adish C. Aggarwala, president of the Supreme Court Bar Association, seeking a suo motu review of the judgment on the disclosure of electoral bond details.

“Apart from being a senior counsel, you are president of the SCBA. You know the procedure," CJI Chandrachud said, adding: “You have written a letter asking me to invoke my suo motu jurisdiction. What is the locus to mention? These are all publicity-oriented stunts. We will not permit it.”

“Do not make me say anything more. It will be distasteful,” the CJI told Mr Aggarwala, who had written a letter in his personal capacity.

The solicitor-general said that on behalf of the Central government: “I completely disassociate myself with what Mr Aggarwala has written. It is completely unwarranted and ill-advised.”

He also said that after the apex court's verdict on electoral bonds, “witch hunting has started at some other level, not at the governmental level”. Those before the court started giving press interviews, “deliberately embarrassing” the court and this creates a non-level playing field, Mr Mehta said.

The S-G also referred to social media posts and said these were intended to cause embarrassment. He stressed that the Centre's case was that they wanted to curb black money.

To this, the CJI said: “Mr Solicitor, we are only concerned about enforcing the direction which we issued (on February 15). As judges, we decide according to the Constitution. We are governed by the rule of law. We are also the subject matter of comments in the social media and the press.”

“Surely, as an institution, our shoulders are broad enough. Our court has an institutional role to play in a polity which is governed by the Constitution and the rule of law. That is the only job,” the CJI said.

The CJI said once the court delivers a judgment, it becomes the nation's property and is open for debate.

Mr Mehta said his purpose was to inform the apex court that there is “something else playing out” which neither the court intended nor the scheme intended.

“I have something to share and I have been watching this very painfully outside the court. Your lordships sit in a kind of a silo. Your lordships are in an ivory tower, not in a negative sense of the term, but what we know here, your lordships never come to know,” Mr Mehta said.

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