For SBI, A Supreme Court Warning Over “Wilful Disobedience”


For SBI, A Supreme Court Warning Over 'Wilful Disobedience'

SBI is India’s largest banking institution (File).

New Delhi:

The Supreme Court on Monday came down strongly on the State Bank of India for “wilful disobedience” of last month’s order – that data about donors and recipients of electoral bonds be released by March 6.

In a significant development, the court warned SBI of contempt proceedings if it failed to release this data by close of business tomorrow. The court also directed the Chairman and Managing Director of SBI – India’s largest bank, with a 23 per cent market share – to file an affidavit after compliance.

“While we are not inclined to exercise contempt jurisdiction at this time, we place SBI on notice that this court may be inclined to proceed against it for wilful disobedience if it does not comply with directions by timelines indicated in this order,” the court said.

A bench led by Chief Justice DY Chandrachud also directed the Election Commission of India to collect and publish all electoral bonds data on its website by 5 pm Friday.

READ | “Disclose Electoral Bonds’ Details By Tomorrow”: Top Court Rejects SBI Plea

The Supreme Court was hearing a plea by the SBI to extend a March 6 deadline to release all information about electoral bonds – donors and recipients. 

The bank argued it would take considerable time to collect, cross-check and release the data, which was stored in two “silos” to maintain confidentiality of both sides. “We need a little more time to comply. We were told this is supposed to be a secret.”

The bank had asked for time till June 30, which would be well after the general election.

READ | Matching Donor Details Takes Time, SBI Tells Supreme Court

In response the court pointed out donor details were available at the SBI’s Mumbai branch, and the bank just had to “open covers, collate details and give information”. The Chief Justice then asked the bank what work had been completed since its original order – 26 days ago. “Please tell what matching you have done in the last 26 days. There is a degree of candour expected from SBI…” he remarked.

READ | SBI Plea For Time To Submit Poll Bonds Info Dismissed: What Top Court Said

The court today also heard a pleas by the Association for Democratic Reform, or ADR, which was among the original challengers to the electoral bonds scheme launched by the government in 2017. It was to allow individuals and groups, including corporates, to make political donations with absolute anonymity.

The ADR had sought contempt action against the State Bank of India for “wilfully and deliberately” disobeyed the court’s order in this matter. The ADR claimed the extension was to obscure details of donors and donations before the April/May Lok Sabah election.

“It is submitted that the said application is mala fide and demonstrates a wilful and deliberate disobedience and defiance of judgement passed by Constitution bench of this court. It is further a clear attempt to undermine the authority of this court,” it said.

The bank’s request for extension was also criticised by Rajya Sabha MP Kapil Sibal, who called it “puerile”.  He called on the court  to protect its dignity, particularly after a Constitution bench judgement.

READ | “Puerile Reason”: Kapil Sibal After SBI Seeks Extension Over Electoral Bonds

Last month, in a landmark verdict, the Supreme Court held the electoral bond scheme to be “unconstitutional” and said it violated citizens’ right to information. The SBI was directed to reveal all bonds data by March 6 and the poll panel to make this information available to the public by March 13.

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