No public interest overriding right to privacy of donors and donees of electoral bonds: CIC rejects RTI application

The CIC held that such disclosure of the names of the donors and donees of electoral bonds from books of accounts may be in contravention of the provisions contained under section 8 (1) (e) and (j) of RTI Act.
No public interest overriding right to privacy of donors and donees of electoral bonds: CIC rejects RTI application
Electoral bonds

The is no larger public interest overriding the right to privacy of the donors and donees of electoral bonds, the Chief Information Commission (CIC) said on Monday rejecting an RTI application seeking details of donors and donees of electoral bonds from the books of accounts of State Bank of India’s four metro branches.

The Chief Information Commissioner Suresh Chandra held that such disclosure of the names of the donors and donees of electoral bonds from books of accounts "may be in contravention" of the provisions contained under section 8 (1) (e) and (j) of RTI Act.

“The Commission upholds the contention of the respondent that in the disclosure of the names of the donors and donees of electoral bonds from books of accounts may be in contravention of the provisions contained under section 8 (1) (e) and (j) of RTI Act. There appears to be no larger public interest overriding the right to privacy of the donors and donees concerned,” the CIC order said.

Section 8(1)(e ) exempts disclosure of information available to a person in his fiduciary relationship unless larger public interest warrants such disclosure.

Section 8(1)(j) protects information which involves privacy of individual unless such disclosure is warranted by larger public interest.

The CIC order was passed in a plea by RTI applicant, Vihar Durve who had, inter alia, sought the following:

“Furnish me details of Donor and Donee of Electoral Bonds from the books of accounts of (a) SBI Mumbai Main Branch Code 00300 (b) SBI Chennai Main Branch Code 00800 (c) SBI Kolkata Main Branch Code 00001 d) SBI New Delhi Main Branch Code 00691."

Durve’s plea was rejected by the Central Public Information Officer (CPIO) of the State Bank of India, Mumbai on the ground that the same is exempted under Section 8(1)(e) and (j).

He then challenged the same before the First Appellate Authority which held that the information relating to electoral bonds issued to various political parties sought by Durve was held by the bank in fiduciary capacity.

It, therefore, turned down the appeal prompting Durve to approach the CIC by way of second appeal.

The CIC confirmed the decision of First Appellate Authority and dismissed the appeal holding that the information is protected by Section 8(1)(e) and (j).

A plea challenging the validity of electoral bonds is pending before the Supreme Court.

Electoral Bonds was introduced in 2017 by way of amendments to three statutes – Income Tax Act, RBI Act and Representation of People Act. These amendments were made through Finance Act, 2017.

Two NGOs, Association for Democratic Reforms and Common Cause challenged these amendments before the Supreme Court contending that they have opened doors to unlimited, unchecked funding of political parties.

The Centre has staunchly defended the scheme with Attorney General KK Venugopal telling the top court that voters don’t have right to know source of funding of political parties.

“Their contention is voters have a right to know. Voters have a right to know what? Voters dont need to know where money of political parties comes from," he had said during one of the hearings.

Electoral bonds
Electoral Bonds: Voters don’t have right to know source of funding of political parties, AG KK Venugopal

The Supreme Court has time and again refused to stay the scheme and the larger issue pertaining to validity is yet to be decided.

[Read CIC order]

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Electoral Bonds RTI order.pdf
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