SBI Records Hidden No. – A Breach of Electoral Bonds Donors’ Trust
The Quint accesses RTI docs which show Finance Ministry had allowed SBI to record hidden codes on electoral bonds.
Video Editor: Vishal Kumar
Dear Finance Ministry, please do not mislead the public. Way back in April 2018, when The Quint exposed how all electoral bonds have hidden unique alphanumeric codes that are visible only under ultraviolet light, the Finance Ministry went on record to say, “This number is not noted by the State Bank of India in any record.”
However, fresh RTI documents received by transparency activist Anjali Bharadwaj and accessed by The Quint, reveal that the Finance Ministry had actually allowed the State Bank of India to record the hidden alphanumeric codes on every electoral bond.
Below, you can find the highlighted part in the Finance Ministry’s letter where it clearly says that the number is not noted by the SBI.
Meanwhile, the RTI documents The Quint accessed show that the Finance Ministry had asked the SBI "to keep the information highly confidential to prevent its leaking in any way."
The image here shows the exact lines from the RTI reply. Remember, the SBI was the only bank permitted to issue electoral bonds.
Senior BJP minister and party treasurer Piyush Goyal, in a press conference on 21 November, said a serial number is put on electoral bonds with “invisible ink” to make sure that a donor isn’t harassed.
Again, he did not mention that the hidden code is recorded by the SBI.
The Quint wants to know –
- Why didn't Piyush Goyal mention in his press conference that the SBI was keeping a record of the hidden codes on the electoral bonds?
- Why did the Finance Ministry mislead the media and the public?
- Is the government tracking political donations via these hidden numbers?
- Are those making political donations to opposition parties being singled out and harassed?
- What warrants all this SECRECY around these hidden codes?
In January 2018, the State Bank of India did raise an objection to the issuing of electoral bonds without serial numbers – a few months before the scheme went public.
The SBI’s reasoning was:
“In case forged electoral bonds are paid and law enforcement agencies or a competent court asks for details in this regard, the SBI will not be able to provide any details about whom it was issued to, and in which account it was encashed.”
Let us take note here that the SBI wanted serial numbers on the electoral bonds, but did not need them to be hidden. But the form in which the electoral bond scheme was rolled out, with hidden unique alphanumeric codes, it became a tool for the government to secretly track those making political donations to the Opposition.
The Reserve Bank of India and the Election Commission both objected to electoral bonds on the grounds that it will lead to black money in political funding. But the Finance Ministry went ahead and introduced electoral bonds in January 2018.
We have been covering this story since April 2018, and we will continue to do so.
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