AA Edit | SC Acts Firm with SBI over Electoral Bonds

SC declaring electoral bonds scheme unconstitutional is a major step towards introducing transparency in election funding in India

The futile attempts by India’s largest bank, the State Bank of India (SBI), to keep the details of the electoral bonds from public eye unmindful of an order of the Supreme Court of India are a sad reflection of how the powers that be make historic institutions opt for indefensible positions and in the process damage their own reputation. It is also reflective of the fact that how the government, which is the majority shareholder in the bank, has arm-twisted one of the most tech-savvy banks in the world into cutting a sorry figure when it comes to transparency.

The order of the Supreme Court on February 15 this year declaring electoral bonds scheme unconstitutional was seen as a major step towards introducing transparency in election funding in India as it held information on how each party benefited from the corporate largesse and was critical for the voter to decide on their choice of a candidate.

It had quite perplexed all those who have an association with the bank in any manner that it had last week sought more time from the apex court to prepare the details of the 22,207 bonds it had sold between April 15, 2019, and February 15, 2024. The bank had come up with the specious argument that it has kept the details of the bonds in two sets of sealed covers and it would take four months to tally the same and present to the ECI against the deadline of March 6, set by the court.

The court, which was hearing a contempt of court petition against the bank on Monday, dismissed its application seeking more time and gave it a working day and half to prepare and pass the information to the ECI, which will now publish it on its website on March 15, instead of the original deadline of March 13. The court refused to buy the arguments advanced by the bank, which runs 22,000-odd branches and serves 48 crore customers, that it would take the additional time if it were to match the details of the donors and beneficiaries. The court exposed the less than honest attempt by the bank when it insisted that it had ordered the bank to disclose only the details of the buyers and the beneficiaries of the bonds separately, and had not ordered the matching of the two.

As it stands today, the SBI will present to the ECI with two sets of information by March 12. One set will comprise information on the name of the purchaser of each bond, its date of purchase and denomination the while the second set will have details of political parties which have received contribution through electoral bonds; this information will include the denomination of the bonds and their dates of encashment. There will be no direct information that links the corporates and the political parties.

The SBI, which belongs to the people of India, should now wholeheartedly work with the apex court in its efforts to plug the route through which political parties can receive funds through non-transparent ways. Opting to play further tricks will not only attract the wrath of the court but also raise the suspicion in the minds of its customers and stakeholders. Principles of corporate governance should go hand in hand with those of democratic governance; they can’t be at variance one another by a wide mark.

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