The recent news reports of the State Bank of India having sold electoral bonds of Rs5851 crore in the months of March and April, spurred the Right to Information (RTI) activists to seek more information from the bank and from the department of economic affairs, finance ministry, but their requests are being stonewalled.
Vihar Durve, Pune based RTI activist, to whom the SBI had replied under his RTI request that the SBI sold electoral bonds worth Rs1365.69 crore in March and Rs2256.37 in April, filed an RTI application for more information on this issue.
He has now asked them to furnish all letters between the years 2017 and 2019, falling under correspondence/directions/notifications/ emails relating to the electoral bonds received from the Reserve Bank of India, any other government department or any other competent authority. He has also asked for information on the action taken by SBI to all these correspondences and copies of the acts, rules, notifications, office memoranda and circulars relating to the electoral bonds.
The Central Public Information Officer (CPIO) has declined to provide information under the garb of it being an issue of `fiduciary relationship’ by stating in his reply that: ``Information sought by the applicant cannot be disclosed as it is in fiduciary capacity, disclosure of which is exempted under Section 8 (1) (e) and 8 (1) (j) of the RTI Act 2005; As for the requisition on the web link where such documents of larger public interest have been uploaded, the RBI stated in its reply that `no such web link is maintained.’’ Durve is planning a second appeal as well as seeking legal intervention.
Commodore Lokesh Batra (retd), noted Delhi based RTI activist has also sent an RTI requisition to the department of economic affairs (DEA). He has sought information on phase-wise and denomination-wise information in respect of electoral bonds (EBs) sold mentioning the amount in rupees as follows: (a) sale and EBS start date; (b) sale and EBS end date; (c) redemption of EBS end date; (d) denomination-wise (i) number of EBS sold with (ii) amount in Rupees; (e) denomination-wise (i) EBS redeemed with amount in Rupees; (f) denomination-wise & amount-wise, ‘funds transferred to PMNRF; (g) complete process / steps of how and who (public authority) transfers funds to PMNRF and; (h) redeemed percentage.”
CPIO of the department of economic affairs washed off his hands stating that such information is not available at all. Alleges Batra, ``the CPIO through his letter of 14th June, has provided misleading and false information amounting to saying that information sought is not available all. While most of the information requested was included in table form in the government affidavit filed in Hon’ble SC in in Case WP(C) 880/2017, in the matter of “ADR Vs Union of India & Others. The DEA’s affidavit clearly reveals that SBI has been regularly and phase-wise, sharing information with the government.”
Adds Batra, ``It has always been dreaded that the ‘government in power’ would come to know through the SBI - the names of donors of ‘electoral bonds’ to the political parties. This fear is coming closer to certainty after the opaqueness displayed by first the SBI and now the government (department of economic affairs (DEA), ministry of finance) in denying information under the RTI Act.’’ Batra has now filed a second appeal as well as a complaint to the Chief Information Commissioner (CIC), seeking the required information and penalty to the CPIO, DEO for misleading information in his reply.
(Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife, an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte” with Vinita Kamte and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”.