SBI refuses to disclose SOP for sale, redemption of electoral bonds in RTI reply

| | New Delhi
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SBI refuses to disclose SOP for sale, redemption of electoral bonds in RTI reply

Tuesday, 02 April 2024 | PTI | New Delhi

SBI refuses to disclose SOP for sale, redemption of electoral bonds in RTI reply

The State Bank of India (SBI) has refused to disclose its standard operating procedure for the sale and redemption of the electoral bonds that were issued to its authorised branches, citing the exemption given under "commercial confidence", according to an RTI response.

In an application filed under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, transparency activist Anjali Bhardwaj had sought the details of the standard operating procedure issued to the SBI's authorised branches on the sale and redemption of the electoral bonds.

"Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) of Electoral Bond Scheme-2018 issued to authorised branches from time to time are internal guidelines with regard to sale and redemption of electoral bonds (meant for internal circulation only), which is exempted under section 8(1)(d) of the Right to Information Act," the response from M Kanna Babu, the central public information officer and deputy general manager of the SBI, said on March 30.

Section 8(1)(d) of the Act exempts from revelation "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".

"It is shocking to note that even after the Supreme Court has struck down the electoral bonds scheme as unconstitutional and explicitly directed and ensured disclosure of all details of the EBs purchased and redeemed, the SBI continues to deny important information about the operation of the electoral bonds scheme," Bhardwaj said.

She said the SOPs would reveal the official instructions governing the particulars of information that were to be stored as well as the form and manner in which information was to be maintained by the bank on the sale and redemption of the electoral bonds.

"It is relevant to note that the SBI cited the standard operating procedures in its application dated March 4, when it sought additional time of four months to comply with the Supreme Court's judgment to disclose the details of the electoral bonds," she said.

The RTI response from the SBI was sent within weeks of the apex court admonishing the bank for the non-disclosure of the unique alphanumeric numbers of the bonds in compliance with its directions.

The court said its order required disclosure, specifically of all details of the bonds, including the names of the purchaser, the amounts and the dates of purchase.

A Constitution bench of the top court had directed the SBI to furnish to the Election Commission (EC) all details of the electoral bonds purchased, and as the case may be, redeemed by political parties, including the dates of purchase.

The bench said, "It has been submitted that the SBI has not disclosed the alpha-numeric numbers of the electoral bonds."

In its landmark verdict on February 15, the court scrapped the Centre's electoral bonds scheme that allowed anonymous political funding, calling it "unconstitutional", and ordered disclosure by the EC of the donors, the amounts donated by them and the recipients by March 13.

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