Leaders from Opposition parties have alleged that the State Bank of India was trying to protect the Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led Central government, after the bank requested an extension in deadline from the Supreme Court to disclose information relating to electoral bonds.

The Supreme Court had on February 15 struck down the electoral bonds scheme as unconstitutional, saying that it could lead to quid pro quo arrangements between donors and political parties. The court had also directed the State Bank of India to issue details of the political parties that received electoral bonds from April 12, 2019, and submit them to the Election Commission by March 6.

On Monday, the public sector bank sought an extension till June 30 from the top court to provide the information to the Election Commission.

Following this, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, in a social media post, asked why the bank wanted an extension for information “that is available at the click of a mouse”.

“When the Supreme Court has said it is the right of citizens to know the truth about electoral bonds, why does the State Bank of India want that this information should not become public before the elections?” the Congress leader asked.

He also said that this was the “last attempt” to hide Modi’s “true face” ahead of the upcoming Lok Sabha elections.

Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge said that Union government was using the “largest banks of our country as a shield to hide its dubious dealings through electoral bonds”.

He said that the BJP was the “main beneficiary” of the scheme. “Isn’t the Modi Govt conveniently hiding BJP’s shady dealings where contracts of highways, ports, airports, power plants etc were handed over to Modi ji’s cronies in lieu of these opaque electoral bonds?” Kharge asked.

The Congress leader said that the data can be disclosed in 24 hours according to experts. “Why does the SBI then need 4 more months, to collate this information?”

He said that the Union government had “bulldozed” every institution. “Now a desperate Modi Govt, clutching on straws, is trying to use SBI to bulldoze the Supreme Court’s judgement!”

Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Sitaram Yechury on Tuesday asked whether the bank was seeking an extension till after the general elections to protect the prime minister and the Bharatiya Janata Party from “exposure of the ‘quid pro quo’ that the Hon’ble Supreme Court apprehended”.

In a social media post, he said that it would be a “travesty of justice”.

Trinamool Congress leader Saket Gokhale said that the State Bank of India was “lying on Modi’s orders”.

Gokhale said that when the Enforcement Directorate arrests an individual, banks send their records in less than 24 hours to help with the investigation. He added that this was done without a court order.

“Then why is SBI unable to produce simple records of electoral bonds in the time stipulated by the SC?” Gokhale asked, adding that the bank had “all the systems to be able to do so in a matter of days”.

“Clearly SBI is working on Modi’s directions,” the Trinamool Congress leader said. “This means that, all along for the last 7 years, Modi & BJP had access to the names of all donors to other political parties thanks to their control over SBI. While NO ONE knew who donated to the BJP.”

SBI asks for extension

In its application for an extension filed before the Supreme Court on Monday, the State Bank of India said that 22,217 electoral bonds were issued between April 12, 2019, and February 15, 2024.

The “details of purchases made at the branches are not maintained centrally at any one place, such as the name of purchaser/donor which could be tallied with date of issue, place of issue (branch), denomination of bond, bond number”, the public sector bank said in its petition.

The bonds were deposited at the State Bank of India’s headquarters in Mumbai by its authorised branches at the end of each tranche in sealed envelopes. The bank said it needed more time to decode, compile and compare the 44,400 sets of information that are currently organised in two separate silos. Therefore, the March 6 deadline set by the Supreme Court would not be sufficient, the bank has argued.

Electoral bonds were monetary instruments that citizens or corporate groups could buy from the State Bank of India and give to a political party, which then redeems them.

The entire process was anonymous since buyers were not required to declare their purchase of these interest-free bonds and political parties did not need to show the source of the money. Only the total amount received through the electoral bonds was revealed to the Election Commission. However, the Centre could access information about these donors as it controls the State Bank of India.

The scheme was introduced by the Bharatiya Janata Party-led Union government in 2018.