Wednesday, April 24, 2024
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Bank must be proceeded against for subverting democracy

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SBI’s vulgar ploy to use secrecy to fight transparency

By K Raveendran

It is the height of irony that a scheme touted as a beacon of transparency in political funding now shrouds itself in secrecy. The electoral bond scheme, which the Bharatiya Janata Party claimed was a tool to bring clarity to political funding, stands accused of obfuscation. At the heart of this paradox lies the State Bank of India (SBI), mandated by legislation to issue the electoral bonds and maintain their records.
While issuing a landmark verdict that struck down the electoral bond scheme of the Modi government, the Supreme Court asked the SBI to furnish details of the contributions made under the scheme to the Election Commission of India by March 31. Not surprisingly, the government-run bank has sought a gratuitous extension till June 30.
In its judgment, the apex court ordered the SBI to furnish details of contributions made under the electoral bond scheme to the Election Commission of India (ECI) by March 31. This was no mere suggestion, it was a command—an imperative to lift the curtain and expose the choreography of political funding. But the SBI, perhaps swayed by hidden hands, chose defiance. It is seeking an extension, and pushing the deadline to June 30.
The clock ticks, and the truth remains veiled.
The reluctance is obvious, but the answer lies in the shadows. The ruling party has dipped its fingers into the bond jar and the proceeds have found their way into partisan pockets. The quid pro quo arrangement—the unspoken pact between donors and recipients—threatens to emerge from the wings. The court, in its wisdom, warned of this danger. The SBI’s refusal to comply with the court’s order is a calculated move—a choreographed evasion to shield the ruling party from embarrassment until the elections get over.
The SBI stand thus amounts to subversion of democracy and the bank’s management, acting as a tool in the hands of the government, must be proceeded against with all the weight of the law of the land. World over, far less obvious interventions have led to prosecution of the entities responsible. The SBI’s conduct is by far more reprehensible. It is more than mere refusal — it is subversion and it undermines the very essence of democratic accountability.
The Association of Democratic Reforms (ADR) has approached the Supreme Court demanding contempt proceedings against the SBI for refusing to comply with the court’s directive. The petition is coming up along with the SBI’s own plea seeking extension of time. The scales of justice must weigh the bank’s actions—the defiance, the delay, the complicity as the court’s verdict resonates beyond borders. The stakes are high and the court’s stand will be watched with keen interest by democratic forces across the big bad world.
The ADR in its plea states that SBI has wilfully and deliberately flouted the court’s directives and through its action has not only denied citizens their right to information but also intentionally undermined the authority of the court. “The defiant approach of the SBI towards citizens’ right to know about huge sums of money received by parties through electoral bonds and corporates in a non-transparent and unaccountable manner is reprehensible and betrays its clear motive to stifle citizens’ voice and right to audit actions of the political class, and therefore it should be held as a serious breach of contempt,” the contempt petition stated.
The ADR asserts that the SBI’s request for more time is not even accompanied by a status report on the progress made so far and points out that the bank has the record of the unique numbers. It allotted the bonds and the KYC details of the bond purchasers. It further argues that bonds are completely traceable, ‘which is evident from the fact that SBI maintains a secret number-based record of donors who buy bonds and the political parties they donate to’.
“As per experts on the said software, since each electoral bond has a unique number, a simple query on the database can generate a report in a particular format which does not require any manual verification,” the contempt petition stated. The ADR also highlighted that sealed envelopes are merely physical instruments like a cheque, and the actual transaction of the cheque being deposited is in the database, which can be easily extracted by generating a software query.
There is no doubt that the SBI request for more time is a premeditated move to save the ruling party from the embarrassment that might be caused by the disclosures and the negative implications of such disclosures among the voters. (IPA Service)

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