May 22, 2024

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India’s Supreme Court ordered the government-controlled State Bank of India to disclose data related to political funding made through the controversial and now-banned electoral bonds by Tuesday.

Chiding the country’s biggest lender for stalling, and missing the court-set deadline of March 6 for disclosing the details of these bonds, Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud put SBI “on notice”. The court may consider proceeding against the bank for willful disobedience if it fails to comply with this new deadline, he said.

In a significant ruling last month, the top court had banned all political funding through the opaque instruments, called electoral bonds, spearheaded by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government. The court called the funding mechanism unconstitutional and said the bonds that protected the identity of donors making contributions to political parties violated the right to information of citizens.

The court also asked the Election Commission of India to publish the data from SBI by March 15. Meanwhile, the data that the poll panel already possesses should be published immediately, the court ordered.

The ban on electoral bonds landed a big blow to political parties in India as the country readies for a national election. Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party was the biggest beneficiary of donations through this mechanism. SBI did not immediately respond to an email seeking response on the order, while the election commission declined to comment.

SBI was the only bank authorized to issue electoral bonds. The supreme court had ordered it to furnish by March 6, details of donations made between April 2019 and February 2024. However, the bank approached the court shortly before the deadline to seek an extension until June 30, after the national polls are set to be completed.

The bank maintained details of donors and redemptions made by parties in two distinct sets, SBI’s advocate Harish Salve told the court on Monday. Collating the data to match the details of donations and redemptions was a time consuming process and needed extra time, he said. A five-judge bench of the court refused to entertain the argument.

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