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April 6, 2024

SBI Refuses to Disclose Electoral Bond SOP, Raises Concerns

The State Bank of India (SBI) has declined to disclose its standard operating procedure (SOP) regarding the sale and redemption of electoral bonds, invoking the exemption clause of “commercial confidence,” according to a recent RTI response. This decision has stirred concerns among transparency activists, who assert the importance of public disclosure, especially in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s directives regarding electoral bond transparency.

Anjali Bhardwaj, a prominent transparency activist, filed an RTI application seeking details of the SOP issued to SBI’s authorized branches concerning the electoral bond transactions. However, the response from M Kanna Babu, the central public information officer and deputy general manager of SBI, cited Section 8(1)(d) of the Right to Information Act, which exempts disclosure of information deemed to be of “commercial confidence.”

Expressing dismay over the bank’s refusal, Bhardwaj highlighted the significance of revealing the SOPs, which would shed light on the internal guidelines governing the sale and redemption of electoral bonds. She emphasized that the disclosure of such information is crucial, particularly in the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling declaring the electoral bond scheme unconstitutional and mandating transparency in electoral bond transactions.

Bhardwaj underscored that the SOPs would provide insights into the procedures for storing and maintaining information related to electoral bond transactions, including details such as purchaser names, amounts, and dates of purchase. She noted that despite the Supreme Court’s explicit directives for disclosure, SBI’s denial of crucial information regarding the electoral bond scheme is disconcerting.

The RTI response from SBI comes amidst heightened scrutiny following the apex court’s admonishment of the bank for its failure to disclose unique alphanumeric numbers of the bonds, as mandated by the court’s directives. The court’s order emphasized the disclosure of comprehensive details regarding electoral bond transactions, including purchaser names, purchase amounts, and dates.

In its landmark verdict on February 15, the Supreme Court invalidated the electoral bond scheme, labeling it unconstitutional due to its allowance of anonymous political funding. The court directed the Election Commission (EC) to disclose donor details, donation amounts, and recipient information by March 13. However, the non-disclosure of SOPs by SBI raises concerns regarding compliance with the court’s directives and transparency in electoral funding.

The refusal by SBI to divulge the electoral bond SOPs underscores the ongoing debate surrounding transparency in political funding and the efficacy of regulatory mechanisms. As stakeholders continue to advocate for greater transparency and accountability in electoral processes, the withholding of crucial information by financial institutions like SBI raises pertinent questions regarding the balance between commercial confidentiality and public interest in democratic governance.

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