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SBI denies information under RTI regarding names of purchasers of electoral bonds

Anjali Bhardwaj, Amrita Johri*
In November 2019, information accessed under the Right to Information (RTI) Act had revealed how the government pushed through the anonymous Electoral Bonds (EB) Scheme, ignoring warnings of the Election Commission of India and RBI, which termed anonymous funding via Electoral Bonds "a retrograde step" for transparency and highlighted that they would lead to money laundering and more black money in the system.
In December 2019, applications under the RTI Act were filed seeking information from all 29 branches of the State Bank of India, which are authorised to sell Electoral Bonds. The following information was sought:
  1. Total number of electoral bonds sold since January 2, 2018.
  2. Total value of electoral bonds sold since January 2, 2018.
  3. Total number of electoral bonds sold in the denomination of Rs 1 crore since January 2, 2018.
  4. Names of all persons who have purchased electoral bonds in the denomination of Rs 1 crore since January 2, 2018.
Of the 29 branches, 23 have replied to the RTI applications. Of these 23, the information reveals that 11,770 electoral bonds (EBs) have been sold from these branches worth Rs 5936.7 crore. Of the 11,770 bonds, 5,463 were of the denomination of Rs. 1 crore which means that 92% of the amount given through bonds was in the denomination of Rs. 1 crore. For 6 branches- Lucknow, Patna, Ranchi, Vishakhapatnam, Chennai and Thiruvananthapuram, no information has been received till date.
All the branches denied information on the names of persons who purchased bonds in the denomination of Rs 1 crore
All the branches denied information on the names of persons who purchased bonds in the denomination of Rs 1 crore stating that “the information sought by the applicant cannot be disclosed as it is in fiduciary capacity, disclosure of which is exempted under 8(1)(e) and 8(1)(j) of RTI Act, 2005.”
This is a violation of peoples’ right to know. The public authority has failed to weigh the issue of larger public interest, which is mandatorily required in each case in which information is denied under section 8 of the RTI Act.
Information accessed under the RTI Act shows that EBs worth Rs 1,880 crore were bought from the Mumbai branch followed by Rs 1,440 crore from Kolkata branch and Rs 919 crore New Delhi branch. The information is presented in tabulated form HERE.
Even as the petition seeking stay on the EB scheme is listed for hearing before the Supreme Court, the government has opened the 13th window for sale and encashment of electoral bonds from January 13, 2020. The case challenging the EB scheme was filed in 2017 in Supreme Court.
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*With National Campaign for People’s Right to Information

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