Non-Disclosure Of Information Under RTI Act: SC issues Notice To RBI On Contempt Plea
The Supreme Court has issued notice to the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) on two contempt petitions filed against it for non-disclosure of information under the Right to Information (RTI) Act.
Notice was issued by a bench headed by Justice L. Nageswara Rao on petitions filed by RTI activists Mr. Subhash Chandra Agrawal and Mr. Girish Mittal, both of them represented by Advocates Prashant Bhushan and Pranav Sachdeva. RBI is expected to file a reply within four weeks and the case will be listed in March.
Both petitions rely on the December 16, 2015 judgment in Reserve Bank of India v. Jayantilal N. Mistry, wherein the Supreme Court had come down heavily on RBI for refusing information under RTI Act. It had then ruled that RBI was bound to comply with the provisions of the Act and disclose information therein.
Mr. Agrawal's petition now alleges violation of the Supreme Court decision by RBI's issuance of a "Disclosure Policy" directing its Public Information Officers (PIOs) to not disclose certain kinds of information. It points out that the policy bars disclosure of information relating to applications received under the RTI Act. This, it says, violates the Supreme Court judgment.
The petition also takes objection to the fact that the policy lists down exemption of information under Section 8 of the RTI Act. This, it asserts, violates the judgment, as the Supreme Court had ruled that RBI cannot refuse information on the grounds of economic interest of the country, and fiduciary relationship with individual banks.
The Supreme Court had essentially held that RBI was not in fiduciary relation with individual banks as it did not hold such information in "trust" with these banks. It had, in fact, opined that non-disclosure of such information will be detrimental to economic interest of nation.
"RBI is supposed to uphold public interest and not the interest of individual banks. RBI is clearly not in any fiduciary relationship with any bank. RBI has no legal duty to maximize the benefit of any public sector or private sector bank, and thus there is no relationship of 'trust' between them. RBI has a statutory duty to uphold the interest of the public at large, the depositors, the country's economy and the banking sector.
Thus, RBI ought to act with transparency and not hide information that might embarrass individual banks. It is duty bound to comply with the provisions of the RTI Act and disclose the information sought by the respondents herein," the court had then ruled.
The petition, however, points out that despite the Supreme Court having made the position clear, the policy's aims and objectives state that the list was being framed "to attain the objectives of the RTI Act, without jeopardizing the financial stability and economic interests of the State". This, it says, is in clear contempt of the Supreme Court judgment.
"It is also to be noted that this policy has been framed by the RBI headquarter which is like an instruction to its PIOs not to furnish virtually all kinds of information. Under the RTI Act, 2005, it is the PIOs who have been cast with the statutory duty to comply with the provisions of the RTI Act (as interpreted by the Courts) and it is the PIOs who face penalty for non-compliance. The policy issued by the RBI headquarter / Respondent herein to the PIOs is not only in violation of this Hon'ble Court's judgment, but it is also in violation of the provisions of the RTI Act. PIOs have to be governed by the provisions of the RTI Act and not the whims and fancies of the department bosses where they work," it further avers.
Mr. Mittal's petition alleges that despite the decision, information was denied to him claiming that the disclosure is "not in the economic interests of the state and would adversely affect the competitive position of the third party".
His application dated December 18, 2015 had sought copies of inspection reports of ICICI Bank, Axis Bank, HDFC Bank and State Bank of India from April 1, 2011. He had also sought copies of any show-cause notices issued to these banks, response to such notices and action taken, if any.
With regard to his query concerning irregularities by Sahara Group and erstwhile Bank of Rajasthan, he was told that these were exempt under Section 8(1)(e) of the RTI Act read with Section 45NB of the Reserve Bank of India Act, 1934.
Relying on these responses, the petition therefore asserts, "The above responses are in complete violation of the judgment dated 16.12.2015 of this Hon'ble Court. Therefore the instant contempt petition is being preferred."
With such contentions, the petitions demand initiation of contempt proceedings against RBI.
Read the Petition Here