The Central Information Commission has directed the Centre to reveal the names of electoral bond scheme donors who wanted their identities to remain confidential. The commission also asked the government for a photocopy of all such representations it had received, and the draft electoral bonds scheme prepared by the Department of Economic Affairs in consultation with the Reserve Bank of India and the Election Commission.

Electoral bonds are monetary instruments that citizens or corporate groups can buy from the State Bank of India and give to a political party, which is then free to redeem them for money. These bonds are anonymous. The scheme was notified in January 2018.

The appellant, Venkatesh Nayak, had filed an application on July 7, 2017, under the Right to Information Act, seeking information about donors who wanted to remain anonymous. The application was addressed to the Central Public Information Officer and the Department of Economic Affairs. However, he did not receive any reply.

Nayak filed a first appeal in August 2017, and the first appellate authority ordered the transfer of the application to RBI, the government’s Department of Financial Services, the Election Commission and the coordination section of the Department of Economic Affairs. However, Nayak did not get adequate information from these organisations. He filed an appeal with the Central Information Commission in January 2018.

In his order on January 3, Information Commissioner Suresh Chandra said Reserve Bank of India’s reply to Nayak was incomplete. “The CPIO [public information officer] of RBI is directed to be more cautious while giving information to RTIs,” the panel added. “He is directed to revisit the RTI application and give a self-explanatory reply to the applicant.”

The Central Information Commission also issued show-cause notices to the Department of Economic Affairs, the Department of Financial Services and the Election Commission. Suresh Chandra said all written explanations must reach the commission within three weeks.

Last month, the Supreme Court had agreed to take up this January an application filed by advocate Prashant Bhushan to stay the implementation of the electoral bonds scheme. Bhushan, who is representing the Association of Democratic Reforms, said “the scheme opened the floodgates of unlimited corporate donations to political parties and anonymous financing by Indian as well as foreign companies that can have serious repercussions on democracy in the country”.