The Central Information Commission (CIC), the lead body for implementing the Right to Information Act, has now ruled that the disclosure of identity of electoral bond scheme donors will not serve any larger public interest and will violate provisions of the Act itself.
In an order issued on December 21 that was uploaded on Tuesday, Information Commissioner Suresh Chandra, while dismissing an appeal by a Maharashtra-based activist Vihar Durve – who had sought information of the scheme donors – remarked that “there appears to be no larger public interest overriding the right of privacy of the donors and donees concerned”.
Upholding the contention of the Central Public Information Officer (CPIO) of the State Bank of India (SBI), the commission further observed that the “disclosure of names of donors and the donees may be in contravention of provisions contained in section 8 (1) (e) ( j ) of the RTI Act itself, which exempt a public authority to give a citizen information available to a person in his fiduciary relationship, unless the competent authority is satisfied that the larger public interest warrant the disclosure of such information”.
The electoral bond scheme, which was notified by the Centre in 2018, allows citizens and corporates to buy monetary instruments from the SBI and donate them to a political party, which is then free to redeem it for money.
The same CIC, in an order issued this January, had directed the Centre to reveal the names of electoral bond scheme donors who wanted their identities to remain confidential.
Citizen groups have been arguing that the information of donors must be disclosed in the interest of transparency. Durve, too, said that “the SBI ought to disclose the information in the interest of accountability and efficient functioning of central investigating agencies.”
Durve had first sought the information in this regard from SBI’s CPIO on June 16, 2018. Dissatisfied by the CPIO’s reply, he had appealed to the First Appellate Authority (FAA) with the bank, who also ruled that the “information related to electoral bonds issued to political parties was held by the SBI in fiduciary capacity” and that the names of the donors could not be disclosed as these fell in the bracket of third party information.
While sharing information of the total number of bonds issued in the 2018-20 period, the FAA also had similar observations to make over his refusal to share party-wise details of beneficiaries.