SBI Denies RTI Request on Electoral Bond Guidelines Despite Supreme Court Ruling

State Bank of India (SBI) refuses to disclose internal guidelines on electoral bonds under RTI Act, citing commercial confidence and intellectual property. SBI's decision comes despite Supreme Court scrapping electoral bonds scheme in 2024, deeming it unconstitutional.

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Nitish Verma
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SBI Denies RTI Request on Electoral Bond Guidelines Despite Supreme Court Ruling

SBI Denies RTI Request on Electoral Bond Guidelines Despite Supreme Court Ruling

The State Bank of India (SBI) has refused to disclose details of its internal guidelines on electoral bonds under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, citing commercial confidence and intellectual property. This decision comes despite the Supreme Court scrapping the electoral bonds scheme in February 2024, deeming it unconstitutional for violating the people's right to know who funds political parties.

Why this matters: The lack of transparency in electoral funding can have far-reaching consequences on the democratic process, potentially leading to undue influence and corruption. The refusal to disclose internal guidelines on electoral bonds raises concerns about accountability and the integrity of the electoral system.

The electoral bonds scheme, notified by the BJP-led Union government in January 2018, allowed individuals and companies to donate money to political parties anonymously. Venkatesh Nayak, director of the NGO Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, sought a copy of SBI's internal guidelines on electoral bonds under the RTI Act. However, SBI denied the request, stating, "The internal guidelines were strictly meant for the dealing staff and are the information of commercial confidence and intellectual property of the bank."

Nayak argued that the internal guidelines are meant for internal circulation only and are in the nature of information that must be disclosed suo motu under Section 4(1)(b)(v) of the RTI Act. He emphasized that the Supreme Court has ruled that Section 4 disclosures are mandatory, and SBI cannot claim an exception.

Nayak also sought information on the denomination-wise number of electoral bond instruments presented to authorized branches for encashment that were detected to be fake. SBI responded that no fake electoral bond has been presented for encashment at any authorized branch. Last month, SBI denied Nayak's request for information on official documents recording the unique identifying number on every electoral bond.

This is not the first time SBI has denied RTI requests related to electoral bonds. In April, Anjali Bhardwaj of the Delhi-based NGO Society for Citizens Vigilance Initiatives also sought information from SBI on the standard operating procedures on the sale and redemption of electoral bonds, which was denied citing Section 8.1(d) of the Act.

The Centre for Public Interest Litigation and Common Cause have petitioned for an investigation into large donations to political parties through electoral bonds by loss-making and shell companies with unknown sources of funds. An analysis of electoral bond data revealed that the top 30 donors of the five biggest beneficiaries of the scheme include Future Gaming and Hotel Services Pvt Ltd, which donated Rs 1,368 crore in bonds while making a cumulative profit of only Rs 368 crore in four years. SBI's refusal to disclose its internal guidelines on electoral bonds has raised concerns about transparency and accountability in the electoral process.