The Central Information Commission, the highest appellate authority under the Right to Information Act, has ruled that there is no public interest in disclosing details of electoral bond scheme donors, PTI reported on Tuesday. The body rejected a plea for making the information public, saying it will violate provisions of the RTI Act itself.
Information Commissioner Suresh Chandra dismissed an appeal made by Pune-based activist Vihar Durve, who had sought details of the scheme donors. “There appears to be no larger public interest overriding the right to privacy of the donors and donees concerned,” Chandra said.
The CIC upheld the arguments of the State Bank of India that the information sought by Durve from its branches designated to sell the electoral bonds was personal in nature. The activist, however, argued that the SBI was supposed to uphold public interest and not the interest of political parties. He said the details should be disclosed in the interest of transparency and accountability.
The information commissioner rejected Durve’s arguments, citing the provisions contained in the RTI Act. “The commission upholds the contention of the respondent (SBI) that in the disclosure of the names of the donors and donees of electoral bonds from books of accounts may be in contravention of the provisions contained under Section 8(1)(e) (fiduciary capacity) and (j) (personal information) of the RTI Act,” Chandra said in the order.
The activist told PTI that the CIC order was as an “unreasoned” one as it does not mention the Election Commission, Reserve Bank of India or law ministry objections.
The Centre had notified the electoral bond scheme on January 2, 2018. Electoral bonds are monetary instruments that citizens or corporate groups can buy from the State Bank of India and give to a political party, which is then free to redeem them for money. These bonds are anonymous. The scheme was notified in January 2018. These bonds are issued four times every year in January, April, July and October. This year, they were issued only in January and October.
According to an RTI response, electoral bonds of about Rs 62,10,39,47,000, or Rs 6,210 crore, printed over 13 phases, were sold since 2018 till March this year. Printing the electoral bonds cost Rs 1.85 crore since the beginning of the scheme in 2018. A review of the details on the electoral bonds that were printed and sold showed a significant wastage of money as a large number of the lower denominations remain unsold.