Who bought and sold electoral bonds to political parties? SBI refuses to divulge under RTI for second time

By Our Representative
State Bank of India (SBI) has once again refused to divulge details, sought under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2005, of the Electoral Bond (EB) sale data of donors and recipient political parties, even though admitting that whatever little information it had was “goofed up” while handing it over to senior RTI activist, Venkatesh Nayak, during his earlier appeal.
Nayak, who is with the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), has revealed in an email alert that he had sought, under RTI, information about the buyers of Electoral Bonds (EBs) and political parties, which received them. The Central Public Information Officer (CPIO) denied the information about buyers and the denominations of EBs they purchased, saying that compiling such information would lead to disproportionate diversion of the Bank's resources.
The CPIO also said that all reports sent to the Central government about the sale and purchase of EBs were in "fiduciary capacity" and could not be disclosed under Section 8(1)(e) of the RTI Act. Hence, the CPIO provided only denomination-wise figures for the sale of EBs through the designated branches.
Following an appeal before the SBI's First Appellate Authority (FAA) against CPIO’s rule, Nayak was told that the CPIO had goofed up while providing the EB sale data against his RTI application. FAA said, the CPIO’s sale data attributed to SBI’s Gandhinagar Branch actually belonged to the Bengaluru branch of SBI.
At the same time, FAA, says Nayak, FAA “refused to examine” the CPIO's reply in light of the RBI's Master Circular of July 2015 and an Supreme Court ruling of December 2015 on the nature of "fiduciary relationship", even as ignoring the Central Information Commission’s (CIC’s) 12-year-old ruling about the illegal practice of using Section 7(9) of the RTI Act for refusing information.
RBI's July 2015 Master Circular points to the exceptions under which the secrecy clause between the bank and the customer cannot be invoked. These include, where a “disclosure is under compulsion of law”, where “there is duty to the public to disclose”, where “interest of bank requires disclosure”, and where “the disclosure is made with the express or implied consent of the customer."
As for the Supreme Court, it rejected in its ruling RBI's claim that it stands in a "fiduciary" relationship with the banks that it regulate, hence would not disclose information under RTI. This ruling came in the context of information requests regarding non-performing assets (NPAs) and loan defaulters from public sector banks.
FAA also “upheld the CPIO's decision to reject information about buyers of EBs”, says Nayak, because, in his view, “such information is not available in compiled form and compiling it would disproportionately divert SBI's resources.”
Nayak notes, “My argument that Section 7(9) cannot be used to reject an RTI application but must be used to facilitate access to the requested information in any other form were simply ignored by the FAA. The FAA chose to mechanically uphold the CPIO's decision – an indication of a refusal to apply one's mind despite compelling case law.”
Comments Nayak, the replies by CPIO and FAA suggest the extent to which transparency in political party funding respected. He underlines, the EB scheme is “a backward leap to the era of secrecy”, something the new transparent system is proving it time and again.

Comments

Uma Sheth said…
No one can reply honestly if he or she is doing something underhand so there is no point in filing RTI applications in this case. The truth will NEVER come out
Venkatesh Nayak said…
Thanks for reading the article and commenting it. Very respectfully I would like to say- because they will not divulge it, there is a reason to use RTI. This is a struggle and will not be an easy one.