SBI Refuses Disclosure of Legal Fees in Electoral Bonds Case, Citing RTI Exemptions

SBI denies disclosing legal fees paid to Harish Salve in electoral bonds case under RTI, cites exemptions.

The State Bank of India (SBI) has refused to reveal legal fees paid to advocate Harish Salve for representing the bank in the electoral bonds case, citing exemptions under the Right to Information (RTI) Act. In response to an RTI query from activist Commodore Lokesh Batra, SBI stated that the requested information is exempt from disclosure as it involves third-party information held by the bank in a fiduciary capacity and is commercially confidential.

“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) & (j) 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,” it said.

Batra also sought the complete set of Electoral Bonds data, as provided by the SBI to the Election Commission of India.

“Information sought by you is containing details of purchases and political parties and hence cannot be disclosed as it is held in fiduciary capacity, disclosure of which is exempted under Section 8(1)(e) and (j) of the RTI Act,” the SBI said in response.

On February 15, a Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court struck down the anonymous Electoral Bonds scheme on the ground that it infringed the voters' right to information about the source of funding for political parties. The Court directed the SBI to disclose the details of the Electoral Bonds sold and redeemed between April 12, 2019, to February 15, 2024, to the Election Commission of India by March 6, 2024.

Later, the Supreme Court rejected an application filed by the SBI seeking time till June 30. Senior Advocate Harish Salve represented the Bank before the Supreme Court to argue the extension application.

On March 11, the Court dismissed the application and directed the SBI to disclose the information by March 12. Later, the Court took exception to the SBI not disclosing the unique bond numbers in the data, without which it would not be possible to match the purchasers of the bonds with the political parties which redeemed them. On March 18, the Court categorically directed that the SBI has to disclose all data relating to the Electoral Bonds available with it, including their unique alphanumeric numbers.