SBI has proved that the government system works out of fear.

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Government machinery works with the help of sticks. An example of this was the disclosure of electoral bonds. State Bank of India (SBI) tried to stall this matter but could not get the matter resolved before the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court has thwarted all the efforts of SBI to hide the names and amounts of industrialists who made election donations through bonds. SBI’s intention was that this donation case should be disclosed after the month of June so that after the completion of Lok Sabha elections, the incoming central government could handle this matter. SBI made various excuses to prolong the period of this bond disclosure. The Supreme Court has clearly said in this matter that if this information is not given to the Election Commission by the stipulated date and the details of donations are not made public, then strict action will be taken.

Following the order of the Supreme Court, the Election Commission of India released the data related to electoral bonds on March 14. The data related to electoral bonds is the same data which was shared by SBI with the Election Commission on March 12. Two lists have been released on the website of the Election Commission. It has a total of 763 pages which include the names of companies and people purchasing electoral bonds. SBI surrendered before the strictness of the Supreme Court. SBI completed the same in a few days, for which time was being sought till the month of June to collect the details. This shows that due to fear of action, the government machinery can work at the speed of a storm. The rust in the government machinery is removed only when orders like the Supreme Court have to be followed.

It is noteworthy that this is not the first time that a government department has worked at the speed of a horse due to fear of the court. The Central Bureau of Investigation is another big example of this in the case of coal scam status report. The Supreme Court had expressed displeasure over the interference of the Law Minister and the PMO in this matter. Expressing displeasure, the Supreme Court had said in harsh words that CBI has many masters and the investigating agency is like a caged parrot. Reprimanding the government, the Supreme Court had said that when CBI is not independent then how can it conduct an impartial investigation. The Supreme Court said that CBI is a parrot who is imprisoned in a cage whereas CBI is an autonomous institution and it should maintain its autonomy. CBI should not repeat the words of its master like a parrot. SBI has also behaved like CBI. The Supreme Court was forced to show strictness on this. SBI is still showing caution. The court has asked the bank why it did not disclose the bond numbers. Why did the bank not disclose the alpha numeric number? The court has ordered SBI to disclose the bond number. The court orders that the data kept in the sealed cover should be given to the Election Commission, as they have to upload it. The court said that the date of purchase and redemption of the bonds should have been mentioned. Actually, Unique ID is the unique number of each bond. Through this, it can be easily found out which company or person has donated to which party. All information about donors and recipients of donations will be available at one place. On this matter, the Supreme Court says that from the bond numbers it will be possible to know how much donation has been given by which donor to which party.

The Electoral Bond Scheme of the Central Government has been surrounded by controversies since the beginning. Under this scheme, electoral bonds worth Rs 16,518 crore were purchased between January 2018 and January 2024 and most of this amount was given to political parties as election funding. The largest share of this amount went to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party at the Centre. Many questions were being raised regarding transparency on these bonds and it was alleged that this scheme was being used for money laundering or converting black money into white. Five petitioners, including Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), Common Cause and Marxist Communist Party, had approached the Supreme Court questioning the validity of electoral bonds. Founder and Trustee of ADR, Professor Jagdeep Chhokar said that this decision is praiseworthy. The effect of this will be that the Electoral Bonds Scheme will be closed and the money which was given by the corporates to the political parties, about which the general public had no knowledge, will also be stopped. In this case, the transparency which was destroyed by the Electoral Bonds Scheme will come back. Sitaram Yechury, general secretary of the Communist Party of India-Marxist, who was involved as a petitioner in this case, says that this scheme was unconstitutional and ended the level playing field (equal opportunity). Yechury said that from the beginning he and his party were of the opinion that electoral bonds were a means of legalizing political corruption.

Sitaram Yechury says that it would be right that the money be returned because this scheme itself is unconstitutional. But we want that the money should not be returned to the companies that donated it to political parties. This money should be deposited in the government account and the scheme of state funding of elections should be started. BJP leader Ravi Shankar Prasad said that this decision was brought for a very authentic purpose. It was brought in to ensure transparency in funding of elections. It was also introduced to reduce the influence of cash in elections. It is very important to understand this. As many of our donors as possible expected that it would be appropriate that confidentiality be maintained for us too. He said that if a government is defeated and its opponents come to another place, then they turn against the donors. Therefore, if someone is doing business honestly then he should do his work. The abolition of electoral bonds makes little difference to election funding as most of the election funding comes in cash. This decision is important only from the point of view of transparency of funding. The ruling party will continue to get money while the opposition’s source of money will reduce. The Court has repeatedly chosen to stay away from direct confrontation with the government, particularly on major government priorities or other important issues. That the decision was unanimous suggests that the judges felt strongly that the bond plan was constitutionally untenable.

Like CBI, SBI’s scandal in the election fund issue has proved that the parrot in the cage is not just one department. Government departments work like puppets of the ruling parties. As soon as power changes, they start speaking the language of other parties. In fact, until the responsibility of the government machinery regarding functioning and transparency is not legally fixed, the bureaucracy will continue to be hit by the orders of the courts. If governments fix the responsibility of ineffective government machinery, then the government and bureaucracy will not have to face such embarrassment.

– Yogendra Yogi

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