The Supreme Court on Monday ordered the State Bank of India to disclose all details related to electoral bonds, including their unique alphanumeric numbers and serial numbers, by 5 pm on March 21, Live Law reported.

The alphanumeric and serial numbers of electoral bonds can be used to match donations with the parties that received them.

The bench headed by Chief Justice DY Chandrachud noted that senior advocate Harish Salve, representing the State Bank of India, had stated that all data shall be furnished.

“...There is no manner of doubt that the SBI is required to furnish all details available with it,” the bench said. “This, we clarify, will include the alphanumeric number and serial number, if any, of the bonds purchased. In order to avoid any controversy in the future, the chairperson of the bank should file an affidavit by 5 pm on Thursday that it has disclosed all details in its custody and that no details have been withheld.”

The court said that the Election Commission will have to upload the details “forthwith once it receives the data” from the bank, Bar and Bench reported.

The Supreme Court said that the State Bank of India cannot be selective in disclosing information about electoral bonds.

It said that its February 15 verdict had mandated the State Bank of India to disclose “all details” including the date of purchase or redemption, name of purchaser or recipient and the denomination, Live Law reported. The court said that the use of the word “including” means that the details specified in the judgement were only illustrative and not exhaustive.

The Supreme Court had on February 15 said that the electoral bonds could lead to quid pro quo arrangements between donors and political parties when it struck down the scheme as unconstitutional. The court had 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.

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On Friday, the court verbally observed that the State Bank of India must disclose the unique code on each electoral bond. Justice Chandrachud directed a notice to be issued to the bank.

This came after the data provided by the bank to the Election Commission to make it public did not mention the unique codes that would link the identities of the purchasers and the recipients.

The Election Commission on Thursday made public the electoral bonds data given to it by the State Bank of India, a day after the bank informed the Supreme Court that it had furnished details of anonymously purchased electoral bonds by contributors and encashed by political parties between April 2019 and February 15, 2024, to the poll panel.

An initial analysis of the data showed that lottery giant Future Gaming and Hotel Services was the top purchaser of electoral bonds, as it had bought bonds worth Rs 1,368 crore. The BJP has received the lion’s share of political funding through the scheme.

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 could then redeem 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. However, the Centre could access information about these donors as it controls the State Bank of India.

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

Supreme Court Bar Association president’s letter

On Monday, Supreme Court Bar Association President Adish Aggarwala mentioned before the bench a letter he had written to President Droupadi Murmu, urging her to put the February 15 verdict on hold till the matter is heard once again by the court, Bar and Bench reported.

Chandrachud, in response to the Aggarwala’s letter, said: “Apart from being a senior counsel, you [Aggarwala] are president of the Supreme Court Bar Association. You have written a letter invoking my suo motu powers.”

Chandrachud said that the court will not get into it as it was “publicity related” matters. “Do not make me say anything more. It will be distasteful,” he added.

In his March 12 letter to Murmu, Aggarwala said that the Supreme Court should not allow itself to deliver judgements that would create “constitutional stalemate, undermine the majesty of the Parliament of India, the collective wisdom of the people’s representatives gathered in the Parliament and create a question mark over the very democratic functioning of political parties themselves”.

He also claimed that revealing the names of corporates who had contributed to different political parties would leave them vulnerable to “victimisation”.

On the same day, the Supreme Court Bar Association issued a resolution stating that it had not authorised Aggarwala to write to Murmu.

The bar association said that the letter appears to have been written by Aggarwala in his capacity as the chairman of the All India Bar Association. It said, however, that below his signature, the letter mentioned Aggarwala’s designation as the “President of the Supreme Court Bar Association”.

“Therefore, it has become expedient for the executive committee of the Supreme Court Bar Association to make it abundantly clear that the members of the committee have neither authorised the president [Aggarwala] to write any such letter nor do they subscribe to his views as expressed therein,” read the resolution.

It added that the executive committee of the association views “this act [Aggarwala’s letter to President Murmu] as well as the contents therein as an attempt to overreach and undermine the authority of the Supreme Court of India and unequivocally condemn the same”.

Read more analysis on this topic by the Project Electoral Bond, a collaborative project involving Scroll, The News Minute, Newslaundry and freelance journalists.