Chief Justice’s Broad Shoulders Reply As Centre Flags Poll Bonds Debate

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Chief Justice's 'Broad Shoulders' Reply As Centre Flags Poll Bonds Debate

Chief Justice Chandrachud led the Constitution bench hearing on the electoral bonds case

New Delhi:

As the Centre and State Bank of India (SBI) flagged the social media fallout of the Supreme Court’s landmark verdict in the electoral bonds case, Chief Justice of India (CJI) DY Chandrachud said the court’s “shoulders are broad enough” to tackle such commentary.

A five-judge Constitution bench led by the CJI today asked SBI to disclose all details related to electoral bonds. It was hearing petitions that said the state-run bank had released “incomplete data” on political funding through the now-scrapped scheme.

During the hearing, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre, said the court must be informed about how its judgment is playing out. “The witch-hunting has started on another level and not at the government level. Those before the court started giving press interviews, deliberately embarrassing the court. It is not a level playing field. There is a barrage of social media posts intended to cause embarrassment,” he said.

Statistics, Mr Mehta said, “can be twisted as people want”. “Based upon twisted statistics, any kind of posts are made. Would your lordships consider issuing a direction?” he asked.

To this, the Chief Justice replied, “As judges, we are governed by the rule of law, and we work as per the Constitution. As judges, we are also discussed in social media, but as an institution, our shoulders are broad enough to deal with social media commentary.”

As the Solicitor General cited a “media campaign” on the electoral bonds issue, the Chief Justice doubled down, “Recently, in an interview, I was asked about the criticism of a judgment. I said that as a judge, we cannot defend our judgments, once we deliver a judgment, it becomes public property.”

Senior Advocate Harish Salve, appearing for SBI, said the “media is always behind us, with the petitioners saying they will take the SBI to task, haul them up in contempt”. Stressing that the bank is not holding back any information, Mr Salve flagged the risk of a series of Public Interest Litigation (PIL). “Voter knowing is one thing. But if there are PILs saying investigate this and that, I don’t think that is the intent of this court’s judgment,” he said. Mr Salve also said “verdicts are being used for hidden agendas”.

The bank was in for some tough talk today, when the Chief Justice said, “SBI’s attitude seems to be ‘you tell us what to disclose, we will disclose’. That does not seem to be fair. When we say ‘all details’, it includes all conceivable data.”

The court eventually asked the bank to disclose all details, including the alphanumeric number and serial number, if any, of the bonds redeemed. It also asked the SBI chairman to submit an affidavit, stating that no info has been withheld. The Election Commission was asked to upload the data received from SBI.

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