Electoral Bonds Contempt Petition | Court directs SBI to comply with its judgement in one day, warns against contempt proceedings on failure

Constitutionality of the Electoral Bond Scheme

Judges: D.Y. Chandrachud CJI, Sanjiv Khanna J, B.R. Gavai J, J.B. Pardiwala J, Manoj Misra J

Association for Democratic Reforms v State Bank of India

Today, a five-judge Bench of the Supreme Court heard and dismissed the State Bank of India’s (SBI) plea for more time to submit the details of the Electoral Bonds purchased from April 2019. On 15 February 2024, a five-judge Bench had directed SBI to submit these details by 6 March 2024. 

Two days before the deadline, SBI requested an extension till 30 June 2024. Notably, the 2024 Lok Sabha Elections are around the corner and are expected to be held before June. 

The Court was also hearing a contempt plea filed by the Association of Democratic Reforms (ADR), the lead petitioner in the challenge to the Union’s Electoral Bond scheme. They claim that the “application is mala fide and demonstrates a wilful and deliberate disobedience & defiance of the judgement passed by the Constitution Bench.”

Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI(M)) has also filed a contempt petition against SBI’s Miscellaneous Application. CPI(M) was one of the petitioners in the Constitution Bench case. 


On 15 February 2024, the Court unanimously struck down the Union’s 2018 Electoral Bonds (EB) Scheme. The Bench held that the Scheme violated the voters’ right to information enshrined in Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution.

The Court also directed that the sale of electoral bonds be stopped with immediate effect. SBI was directed to submit details of the Electoral Bonds purchased from 12 April 2019 till date, to the ECI by 6 March 2024. This will include details of the purchaser as well as the political parties that the bonds were given to. Further, the Court ordered the ECI to publish the information shared by SBI on its official website within one week from the receipt of the information (by 13 March 2024).

Reading out operative parts of the Judgement, Senior Advocate Harish Salve tried to convince the Court that the details that the SBI is meant to disclose required about three months of decoding. He argued that it is a complex data set collected in two “silos”—one with details of the purchaser and one with the details of the redeemer of the bonds. 

He argued that the SBI construed the Court’s direction to mean that they must “match” the donors to the donee. This matching of data would require time, as they are designed to be difficult to access. Incidentally, in March 2021 Chief Justice S.A. Bobde, while refusing to stay the Electoral Bond Scheme had commented that the electoral bonds scheme was not so opaque as the public could engage in a “match the following” exercise to find who was donating to whom. 

The Bench was quick to jump in and ask why the SBI was going into the details of the data at all. Chief Justice D.Y. Chandrachud pointed to SBI’s application for an extension to show that they had admitted that a Mumbai SBI Branch contained all the details, albeit in separate silos. “We have not asked you to do the matching exercise!” the CJI said. In any case, the details until 12 April 2019 are already submitted by the ECI in sealed cover, the Bench noted. 

Salve explained that between then and the date of the Judgement, a total of 22,217 bonds were purchased. As the information is in two silos, this means that there are 44,434 data sets to comb through. 

“The judgement came out on 15th February. In the last 26 days what extent of matching has been done by you?” the CJI asked. Salve responded that he would submit an affidavit to the Court with the details of the completed work. Salve claimed to have witnessed the ongoing work himself and asserted that the SBI had complicated charts and datasets that they were struggling with.

The CJI appeared displeased. “There should be a degree of candour on the part of the State Bank of India,” he said, insisting that SBI should have made this information available in its Miscellaneous Application. 

Justice Saniv Khanna, joined the CJI in questioning Salve on SBI’s default and asked why the secret numbers embedded on Electoral Bonds can’t be used by the SBI to create the database. Salve responded that when the number was generated, it was “scrambled” and “kept secret” and would require tracing those numbers to each transaction. 

He added that the putting this data together must be done with the greatest scrutiny, so that the wrong donor is not ascribed to a transaction. “Why will that happen Mr. Salve?” Justice Khanna asked. “We expect [SBI] to be able to handle this.” Salve explained that SBI maintained this complex data storing method to comply with the confidentiality mandated by the Scheme. Else, any senior bank officer could access the information and leak it, he said. 

The Bench somberly reminded Counsel that it is a “serious matter when you ask for a modification of an order” of a Constitution Bench, explaining that if this is allowed, any person could come to Court and seek extension. 

SBI to disclose details by 12 March, contempt petition at a later stage, if needed

The Court noted that the details requested by the Court, as admitted by SBI in their miscellaneous application, are readily available. Hence, they saw that there was no difficulty in making such information available publicly. The Bench dismissed the Miscellaneous Application and directed them to “disclose the details by the close of the business hours of 12 March 2024.” 

The ECI is directed to compile the information and publish the details on its official website no later than 5:00 PM on 15 March 2024.

The Court also stated that they would not move ahead with ADR and CPI(M)’s contempt petitions at this stage. However, the Bench warned SBI that if it does not comply with the directions of the Court issued today, it will take action for contempt—specifically, wilful disobedience of the judgement.