Leading public sector lender, The State Bank of India (SBI) records the hidden unique alphanumeric code on the electoral bonds. But the government misled public by denying they are recorded to prove that the electoral bonds are anonymous, The Quints reported.
All electoral bonds can be tracked by the government due to the unique, hidden, alphanumeric codes they are marked with, that are visible only under ultraviolet (UV) light - that's the story The Quint exposed back in April 2018.
In response to The Quint's article, the Finance Ministry had misled the public in its press release later that month, saying, "This number is not noted by the SBI in any record associated with buyer or political party depositing a particular electoral bond".
The documents now show that the hidden alphanumeric codes are recorded by the State Bank of India (SBI), that issues the electoral bonds. The SBI documents received through RTI reveal that it was the Finance Ministry that actually allowed the bank to record the hidden alphanumeric codes and asked it "to keep information highly confidential to prevent its leaking in any way".
According to The Quint, BJP Minister and party treasurer Piyush Goyal, in his press conference on 21 November 2019, said that the serial number is put on the bond with an "invisible ink" so that there is no harassment of the donor. Again, he did not mention that the hidden code is recorded by the SBI.
The question is:
Why did the Finance Ministry mislead the media?
Could it be that the government didn't want it revealed that they were keen to track all political donations via the hidden numbers? And at the same time, didn't want to reveal the ruling party's donors to the public?
Why didn't Piyush Goyal tell the media in its press conference that the hidden alphanumeric codes are recorded? And who would harass political donors to warrant such secrecy?
SBI Objected to Issuance Of Electoral Bonds Without Serial Numbers
The SBI had objected to the issuance of electoral bonds without a "serial number" on it, reveal RTI documents filed by the transparency activist Anjali Bhardawaj.
Taking note of the SBI's demand, the government had agreed to place a unique serial number on the electoral bonds. But the challenge before the government was that if a visible serial number is placed on the bonds like on any other promissory note, then the objective of keeping the donors of electoral bonds anonymous would have been defeated.
The donors would have started doubting the anonymity of the bonds carrying a visible serial number, because it would become easy to track the bonds' donors and donees.
Hence, the government tactfully decided to embed a 'hidden' unique alphnumeric code in the bonds, which is visible only under ultra-violet light and didn't make that fact public while notifying the electoral bonds in January 2018.
The RTI documents further reveal that the SBI demanded these serial numbers on three grounds:
"Without serial number on the electoral bonds, there will be no audit trail available for internal control and reconciliation."
"Branch cannot identify the genuineness of the electoral bonds. Any number of forged electoral bonds can be paid if the serial number is not captured in the system."
"In case forged electoral bonds are paid and Law Enforcement Agencies or a Competent Court ask for details in this regard.the Bank will not be able to provide any details about to whom it was issued and in which account it was encashed."
The SBI clarified to the Department of Economic Affairs of Finance Ministry in its letter dated 19 January 2018 that it is not possible for the bank to issue electoral bonds without a serial number.
The SBI Never Asked for 'Hidden' Number As Security Feature
The RTI documents also reveal that the SBI specified the security features that the bank would want on the electoral bonds.
The SBI requested five security features:
Watermarked Security Paper
Hologram on Bonds of Rs 1 lakh
The electoral bonds were printed in the Indian Security Press in Nashik.
The Minutes of the Meeting on proposed security features to be incorporated in the electoral bonds obtained under the RTI reveals that an "invisible fluorescent ink" - which fluoresces under UV light - was used to print the numbers.