The Central Information Commission has directed the India Security Press (ISP) to provide the total cost of "printing" as well as the "associated cost" of electoral bonds to an RTI applicant.
Information Commissioner Vanaja N Sarna rejected the contention of the ISP that the disclosure of the information would "adversely affect the economic interests of the country" warranting protection under section 8(1)(a) of the Right To Information (RTI) Act.
The section allows a public authority to withhold information, disclosure of which would prejudicially affect the sovereignty and integrity of India; security, strategic, scientific or economic interests of the state; relation with foreign state or lead to incitement of an offence.
RTI activist Commodore Lokesh Batra (retd) had filed an RTI with the India Security Press to provide details of total cost of printing the electoral bonds introduced by the government to ensure transparency in political donations.
Since 2018, over 9,208 crore electoral bonds having a value of Rs 9,187 crore have been sold for various elections, according to a Lok Sabha reply by the government in March this year.
The ISP had denied the information citing Section 8(1)(a) of the RTI Act, which Batra had challenged before the commission, the highest adjudicating body in RTI matters.
Information Commissioner Varna said similar information has been provided earlier in connection with other RTI applications of the same appellant, and this was provided by the Department of Economic Affairs, Ministry of Finance, which included the number of electoral bonds and the cost of printing with associated costs for a particular period.
"Therefore, the denial by the CPIO (Central Public Information Officer) of SPMCIL (Security Printing and Minting Corporation of India Ltd) is not acceptable as such information has been provided in the past by the Ministry itself without referring to any exemption under the RTI Act. The CPIO is accordingly directed to provide the sought for information," she said.
Under the electoral bonds scheme, the purchaser is allowed to buy the bonds of a particular denomination only on fulfillment of all KYC (know your customer) norms issued by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) and by making payment from a bank account from the specified branches of the State Bank of India (SBI).
Electoral bonds have a life of only 15 days during which it can be used for making donation only to registered political parties.
The scheme remains available for purchase for a period of 10 days each in the months of January, April, July and October, as may be specified by the central government.
The bonds can be encashed by an eligible political party only through a designated bank account with the authorised bank.
The scheme has been challenged before the Supreme Court by Association of Democratic Reforms, Common Cause and CPM leader Sitaram Yechury.
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