CIC alters opinion on buyers of electoral bonds
The Central Information Commission (CIC), India’s transparency watchdog, has said that there is no public interest in disclosing the names of the election bond buyers, while reiterating the argument that such information is not You can share under the Right to Information Act (RTI) as is. held in a “trustee” capacity, a move that reflects a change in position from an order issued in January.
“It appears that there is no greater public interest prevailing over the right to privacy of interested donors and grantees (recipients),” Information Commissioner Suresh Chandra said in an order issued Dec. 21.
In January, another CIC bench said in an unrelated casethat the electoral bond process should be more transparent and the names of those who buy them should be declared.
Maharashtra-based RTI applicant Vihar Durve had sought details from the State Bank of India (SBI) of those who bought election bonds from the bank and donated them to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Congress and left-wing parties, of the national branches. of the bank between 2017 and 2018.
The electoral bond scheme allows citizens and corporate entities to purchase monetary instruments from SBI and donate them to political parties, who can exchange them for money. Citizen groups have long argued that, in the interests of transparency, the identity of such donors should be disclosed.
After being dissatisfied with the response from SBI’s public information officer, who declined to provide the names of donors on the grounds that it was third-party information that could not be shared, Durve filed an appeal with the First Appeals Authority. (FAA) of the bank.
The FAA also ruled that information related to electoral bonds issued to political parties was held by the SBI in a fiduciary capacity and that the names of donors could not be released because they were in the “third party information” group.
Section 8 of the RTI Act prohibits sharing third party information without the third party’s written consent. However, the section also says that information can be shared if the information officer is convinced that it would serve a “broader public interest.”
Durve, in his petition, argued that declaring the names of donors will serve the broader public interest of ensuring transparency in the funding of political parties. He also said that electoral bonds were an opaque form of financing with citizens without knowing who, especially corporate entities, were donating money to parties.
“Citizens need to know which companies are funding which party to infer whether (the companies) are influencing policymaking,” Durve said.
The applicant filed an appeal with the CIC in September 2018.
On December 21, 2020, CIC confirmed SBI’s position, holding that “the disclosure of names of donors and grantees may be in contravention of the provisions contained in section 8 (1) (e) (j) of the RTI Act. “.
The section exempts a public authority from providing the citizen information available to it in a fiduciary relationship, if a competent authority is satisfied that it would not serve a broader public interest.
According to the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), political parties have received a total of 12,452 election bonds worth 6,210.39 crore as of January this year, as of January 2017. The BJP received approximately 60 % of total financing through electoral bonds and Congress 31.5%.
ADR also said that the funding received through electoral bonds was more than the money generated through the sale of coupons, vouchers or cash donations for the BJP. ADR in October filed a petition in the Supreme Court requesting an early hearing of its petition demanding the scrapping of the electoral bonds. saying it violated various transparency standards.
Anjali Bhardwaj, from the National Campaign for the Right to Information of the People, said the CIC order was a setback to achieve transparency in the issuance of electoral bonds. “We did not expect this from the transparency regulator to issue such an order. It’s a setback, ”he said.