Citing operational difficulty, State Bank of India has moved the Supreme Court for extending the date to submit details of electoral bonds till June 30, 2024. Earlier, the Court had asked the bank to submit the details by March 6, while quashing the scheme.

In an application, the bank said details of purchases made at the branches are not maintained centrally at any one place. The data related to the issuance of the bond and the data related to the redemption of the bond was kept recorded in two different silos. “No central database was maintained. This was done so as to ensure that donors’ anonymity would be protected,” the bank said.

Laborious process

Donor details were stored in sealed covers at designated branches and then transferred to the main Mumbai branch. Each political party had to maintain a designated account at one of 29 authorised branches for depositing and redeeming electoral bonds. Upon redemption, the original bond and pay-in slip were sealed and sent to the SBI Mumbai main branch.

SBI mentioned that the two sets of information were stored separately, making it a labour-intensive task to reconcile them. To disclose donor details, the date of bond issuance must be cross-referenced with individual purchases. This process addresses the first set of data. Political parties redeemed these bonds in designated bank accounts, which must then be matched with redemption data, forming the second set of information, the bank explained.

The bank mentioned that between April 12, 2019, and February 15, 2024 (date of judgment), 22,217 electoral bonds were used for making donations to various political parties. Redeemed bonds were deposited in Mumbai main branch by the authorised branches at the end of each phase in sealed envelopes. “Coupled with the fact that two different information silos existed, this would mean that a total of 44,434 information sets would have to be decoded, compiled and compared,” the lender said.

The bank admitted that the timeline of three weeks fixed by the court in its judgment would not be sufficient for the entire exercise to be completed.

On February 15, the Supreme Court quashed the electoral bonds scheme on the grounds that it violated citizens’ right to information. In the judgment, Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud said that scheme was unconstitutional and arbitrary and may lead to a quid pro quo arrangement between political parties and donors.