April 18, 2024

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In RTI Reply, SBI Refuses To Share Info On Its Electoral Bond Guidelines

The State Bank of India has refused to share the SOPs it used for the electoral bonds scheme

New Delhi:

Weeks after it was pulled up by the Supreme Court on the electoral bonds issue, the State Bank of India has refused to reveal details of the Standard Operating Procedures issued to its branches regarding sale and redemption of bonds under the now-scrapped scheme.

Transparency activist Anjali Bhardwaj had filed a petition under Right To Information (RTI) Act, seeking information about the SOPs laid down by the bank for the electoral bonds scheme.

In a response by SBI’s Deputy General Manager M Kanna Babu, the bank has said the SOPs were internal guidelines and information regarding them are exempted from disclosure under the Section 8(1)(d) of the RTI law.

This section relates to “information including commercial confidence, trade secrets or intellectual property, the disclosure of which would harm the competitive position of a third party, unless the competent authority is satisfied that larger public interest warrants the disclosure of such information”.

The petitioner has said in a statement that the state-run bank has “blandly invoked the exemption clause without demonstrating how the disclosure would ‘harm the competitive position of a third party’. The denial will be challenged in appeal, she has said.

The development comes weeks after the Supreme Court pulled up SBI for the delay in sharing details of electoral bonds with the Election Commission of India. Following the landmark verdict in February that scrapped the poll bonds scheme, the bank had sought three months’ time to share the data. The court, however, refused its request and asked them to make the data public within two days. The court also warned that it will initiate contempt proceedings against the bank if it did not disclose the data at the earliest.

Soon after the bank shared the data, it came in for another round of reprimand from the court. The court asked why the bank had not disclosed the bond numbers. Thereafter, the bank shared the details and filed an affidavit declaring that it had disclosed all information related to the poll bonds scheme.

In its February 15 judgment, the Supreme Court scrapped the electoral bonds scheme on the grounds that it violates the citizens’ right to information. The scheme, Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud said, was unconstitutional and arbitrary and may lead to a quid pro quo arrangement between political parties and donors.

The Constitution bench of five judges held that the stated objective of fighting black money and maintaining the confidentiality of donors cannot defend the scheme. Electoral bonds, the court said, are not the only way to curb black money.

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