Electoral Bonds: SBI Denies Information on Legal Expenses, Fees Paid to Harish Salve
Moneylife Digital Team 11 April 2024
State Bank of India (SBI), the country's largest State-run lender, is at it again. In its latest replies under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, SBI refused to provide information on legal expenses and fees paid to senior counsel Harish Salve in the electoral bonds (EBs) case. 
Two people, Delhi-based commodore (Cmde) Lokesh Batra (retd) and Pune-based Vivek Velankar, who is a shareholder of SBI, have filed applications under RTI seeking information on legal expenses incurred by the State-run lender in the electoral bonds case. 
In both replies, SBI has used an excuse of 'third party personal information available with the Bank in fiduciary capacity'. 
Mr Velankar has asked for information on: "Total legal expenses done including lawyer fees done by SBI for approaching the Supreme Court for extension of deadline for submitting electoral bonds information to the Election Commission of India (ECI)." 
Cmde Batra, on the other hand, asked for information on: “Total amount paid to senior counsel Harish Salve to represent SBI's case in the Supreme Court. Hearing was held on 11 March 2024."
For both queries, the central public information officer (CPIO) of SBI replied saying, "The information sought by you is third party personal information held by the Bank in fiduciary capacity, disclosure of which is exempted under Section 8(1)(e) and the same is also of commercial confidence in nature hence denied as it is exempted under Section 8(1)(d) of the RTI Act."
Cmde Batra says, "SBI again denied info which involved taxpayers’ money paid to senior advocate Mr Salve for defending the Bank in the SC."
An agitated Mr Velankar, who is also president of the Sajag Nagrik Manch, says, "Refusal to make public this expenditure when, in fact, it was incurred with the money of the SBI's account holders and depositors means that the Bank is hiding. In fact, all these expenses must be recovered from the board of directors and the chairman of the SBI because the reputation of the Bank has been damaged in this (electoral bonds) case."
Separately, Cmde Batra has also asked SBI to furnish complete data on electoral bonds in digital form, as provided by the lender to the ECI after the order from the apex court.

However, SBI denied this information as well. In the reply, the CPIO of SBI says, "Information sought by you is containing details of purchasers and political parties and, hence, cannot be disclosed as it is held in fiduciary capacity disclosure of which is exempted under sections 8(1)(e) and (j) of the RTI Act."

"This is bizarre," Cmde Batra says. "SBI denied information that is now already in the public domain on the ECI website!"
"The RTI Wing of SBI was most trusted and transparent. Is the RTI wing of SBI now under external pressure?" Cmde Batra asks.
Last month, coming down heavily on SBI for sharing selective information on electoral bonds, the Supreme Court directed the lender to completely disclose all details in its possession, including the alphanumeric code on each EB.
"In the judgement, we had expressly asked the SBI to disclose all details. The language of the judgement was 'all details will have to be disclosed'. Therefore, that includes the bond number as well. Let SBI not be selective in disclosure of the details," said the constitution bench headed by the chief justice of India (CJI) DY Chandrachud.
"Now, SBI will not only disclose the bond number, but it shall also file an affidavit again saying that it has not withheld any details," the five-judge bench, also comprising justice Sanjiv Khanna, justice BR Gavai, justice JB Padriwala and justice Manoj Misra, said.
In response, senior counsel Harish Salve, appearing for SBI, said: "We will give every bit of information which we have." 
On 20 March 2024, SBI disclosed all the details of the electoral bonds, which were in its possession and custody, to the election commission of India (ECI).
4 weeks ago
Without getting into the merits of the judgement on the Elelctrol Bonds (EBs), anyone can say without any iota of doubt that the SBI should have not put forward frivolous excuses in not furnishing the information on EBs as ordered by the Hon'ble Supreme Court. The information on legal expenses incurred by the SBI is definitely not exempt under RTI as its not the information held in fiduciary capacity. It is the expenditure of the SBI and not the personal details of the depositors.
Even in the case of depositors, all the banks routinely furnish the information on its deposits to the Income Tax Department through annual returns which are available to the assessees through annual information statements. Thus the information about the deposits is routinely shared with the Income Tax department.
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