New Delhi: The State Bank of India (SBI) branches that are authorised to sell the controversial Electoral Bonds have denied information on the names of purchasers, as sought under the Right To Information (RTI) Act.
In December 2019, activist Anjali Bharadwaj filed RTI applications seeking information from all 29 SBI branches that are authorised to issue the electoral bearer bonds—instruments to allow anonymous funding to unidentified political parties. Of the 29 branches, 23 have replied to the RTI queries.
The applications filed had asked for the following information:
Total number of electoral bonds sold since January 2, 2018
Total value of electoral bonds sold since January 2, 2018
Total number of electoral bonds sold in the denomination of Rs. 1 crore since January 2, 2018
Names of all persons who have purchased electoral bonds in the denomination of Rs. 1 crore since January 2, 2018
Information from the 23 SBI branches that responded reveals that 11,770 electoral bonds have been sold from these branches worth Rs 5,936.7 crore.
Related Link: Electoral Bonds: Farcical From the Word Go, Reveal RTI Responses
Out of these 11,770 bonds, a total of 5,463 were of the denomination of Rs 1 crore, which means that 92% of the money given through bonds was in the denomination of Rs 1 crore.
However, all branches denied revealing information on the names of persons who purchased bonds in the denomination of Rs 1 crore..
“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,” stated the response.
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“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,” said Bharadwaj and activist Amrita Johri in a press statement.
Information accessed under RTI also revealed that—among the branches that responded—the highest value of electoral bonds worth Rs 1,880 crore were bought from the Mumbai branch. This was followed by Rs 1,440 crore from Kolkata branch and Rs 919 crore the New Delhi branch.
This RTI action comes after information accessed under the RTI Act in November 2019 had revealed that the Modi-led BJP government had dismissed the objections raised by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) and ignored warnings of the Election Commission of India (ECI) — in order to bulldoze ahead with the anonymous Electoral Bonds scheme.
The RBI had termed the anonymous political funding via electoral bonds as “a retrograde step” for transparency.
On January 30, 2017, the RBI had said that electoral bonds would set a “bad precedent” by encouraging money laundering, would lead to more black money in the system and undermine faith in Indian banknotes.
The case challenging the Electoral Bonds scheme was filed in Supreme Court in 2017 and the petition seeking stay on the scheme is listed for hearing. However, the government has already opened the 13th window for sale and encashment of electoral bonds from January 13, 2020.