Right to Information
Active citizens, keeping tabs on the government, will lead to improved governance

People can now cite the Supreme Court order and Central Information Commission (CIC) orders to demand information from the Reserve Bank, says Shailesh Gandhi

 

Mumbai’s activists, NGOs, lawyers and concerned citizens cutting across diverse areas of interest and specialization met on 20th September to felicitate Right to Information (RTI) activist and former central information commissioner (CIC) on a landmark judgement of the Supreme Court of India. 
 
The Supreme Court (SC), hearing a set of 11 transferred cases, had said that the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) cannot withhold information citing 'fiduciary relations' under the Right to Information (RTI) Act.  The apex court also said, the Central Information Commission (CIC) has considered elaborately the information sought for and passed orders which in its opinion do not suffer from any error of law, irrationality or arbitrariness. Significantly, as many as 10 of these 11 orders, were issued by Mr Shailesh Gandhi, in his capacity as CIC. He is one of the only two activists who had been appointed a central information commissioner. 
 
The SC Division Bench of Justice MY Eqbal and Justice C Nagappan also made some hard hitting observations about banks the RBI. It said, "From the past we have also come across financial institutions which have tried to defraud the public. These acts are neither in the best interests of the Country nor in the interests of citizens. To our surprise, the RBI as a Watch Dog should have been more dedicated towards disclosing information to the general public under the Right to Information Act. We also understand that the RBI cannot be put in a fix, by making it accountable to every action taken by it. However, in the instant case the RBI is accountable and as such it has to provide information to the information seekers under Section 10(1) of the RTI Act."
 

Speaking at the felicitation held at Moneylife Foundation’s knowledge centre on the significance of the order, Mr Gandhi said that RTI activists can, henceforth cite the CIC orders and the SC judgment in their appeals, if denied information by RBI and other central institutions. The SC, he pointed out had extensively dealt with the two major grounds on which request for information are denied under sec 8(1) (a) of the RTI act – fiduciary relationship and economic interest. A third ground for denial of information, especially by the RBI, has been that pending investigations could be impeded – under Sec. 8 (2). 
 
Mr Gandhi went on to outline some of the key issues that he is pursuing these days as a part of his activism. The first is computerisation of government records and putting them in the public domain. This is the simplest way to ensure transparency and reducing corruption in decision-making. The second is a book on RTI, the third is quicker delivery of justice through the legal system and the fourth is to reclaim open spaces for citizens. 
 
On the issue of Open Spaces, Mr Gandhi pointed out that the Mumbai municipal corporation has proposed an ‘adoption policy’ for the open spaces under its control, which will allow various bodies to take possession of open plots and maintain them. He pointed out that several spaces, which were given earlier under such a scheme, have been usurped by private parties. This leads to the creation of private interests on public lands.
 
According to Mr Gandhi, the municipal corporation seems to treat open spaces as orphan lands despite having the resources to maintain them. This corrupt idea to allow ‘adoption’ of land needs to be opposed. The Brihanmumbai municipal corporation with an annual budget of 32000 crores has a provision of 200 crores for maintaining various grounds and gardens, which is not being utilised. 
 
“Citizens must protest if they wish to retain control of these open spaces and should take a strong position by organizing meetings and interacting with the elected representatives”, said Mr Gandhi. He asked concerned citizens to meet at least three corporators/party leaders and asking why they support a policy to alienate our Open Spaces”. Mr Gandhi has put basic details on a website along with the names and contact detail of all Mumbai corporators, while urging citizens to join in large numbers to protect out scarce open spaces.  
 
Mr Gandhi said that only active citizens, keeping tabs on the government will lead to an improvement in governance. Mr Gandhi’s talk was followed by an open discussion on what the implications of the judgment and on RTI itself. Among those who spoke on the occasion were Mr Vishwas Utagi, office bearer, the All India Bank Employees Association (AIBEA) who strongly welcomed the SC orders and was emphatic that bad loans would reduce only when the top management of banks was made more accountable. Mr Utagi mentioned how the AIBEA had defied the banking secrecy laws and started to publish the list of bank defaulters. Now that the SC judgement had thrown out the RBI’s secrecy on the grounds of ‘fiduciary’ information, he urged people to come forward to file more RTI applications and keep up the pressure on banks to be more fair and transparent in their dealings. 
 

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COMMENTS

Mahesh Khanna

1 year ago

It is a landmark Judgment but we have to see how RBI tries to wriggle out of this situation to avoid giving information.

Bapoo Malcolm

1 year ago

Forthright, hard-hitting, honest. What we liked most was his appraisal of pending court cases. The system is Ok. Only needs to be tweaked.

Last week, at a seminar where the Chief Justice Of India spoke, the CJI also mentioned that people talk only of pending cases; not of the 2 crore cases disposed of in a year. Big country, many litigants. As an ex-CJI had said, it is heartening that people come to court to resolve disputes; not go to dons, no matter how over worked the system.

As for more judges, of course it will help. Yet, the calibre must not suffer. Another way of solving the issue is to also make lawyers responsible when frivolous litigation is filed. They need to advise clients correctly. especially for PILs and Writs. The low cost involved in meant to help the needy and poor. Not to be misused by the rich and powerful.

Heavy fines should be imposed on plaintiffs for uselessly rushing to court, especially when the case smacks of vendetta or for seeking judicial decisions to legitimise criminality.

That way half the burden will be removed. It is already being done in our Bombay High court.

REPLY

nilesh prabhu

In Reply to Bapoo Malcolm 1 year ago

Punish perjury. we lie in courts this must stop. This is bring down cases by 50 percent.


Bapoo Malcolm

In Reply to nilesh prabhu 1 year ago

A client of mine wanted to lie in court. I told him that since we were in a winning position,things would be compromised. He said the other side was lying and so would he.

I warned him that I would report it to the magistrate. He countered by reminding him that I was HIS lawyer! When I explained to him that my duty was first to the court, he discharged me.

AND did not pay me.

The problem is that people think that they MUST lie in court. I agree, judges must be more strict. The law says that perjurers must be thrown out. It needs be implemented.

Bapoo Malcolm

In Reply to nilesh prabhu 1 year ago

Have known of only one person, in recent times, jailed for perjury. A Muslim in Gujrat. Zahira Sheikh.

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Delhi High Court dismisses PIL by Midas Touch Investors Association

The order is likely to reduce crores of wealth of millions of small shareholders’ into junk, tied up in 5,152 companies listed exclusively at 22 Regional Stock Exchanges (RSE), according to a release from the Midas Touch Investors Association

 

Delhi High Court has dismissed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) regarding companies listed at Regional Stock Exchanges (RSE). The order is likely to reduce the wealth of millions of small shareholders into junk. Their money is invested in 5,152 companies listed exclusively at 22 Regional Stock Exchanges (RSE) whose license to carry on business as a Stock Exchange has either been cancelled or  is in the process of being withdrawn by Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI). Delisting of 5,152 companies will reduce the companies listed by about 50% leaving around 5,500 companies listed at BSE and NSE.
 
In the writ petition, the petitioner, Midas Touch Investors Association had objected to the process laid down by SEBI for delisting of companies exclusively listed at RSE, as it had usurped the companies’ shareholders’ fundamental right, conferred under Article 14 and Article 21 of the Constitution of India, to seek Judicial Review. 
 
The petition prayed that appropriate directions be given to SEBI to restore the fundamental rights of the citizens being shareholders to exercise the right of judicial review by filing an appeal against the order of delisting of a listed company as provided under the Securities Contracts (Regulation) Act, 1956.
 
The Delhi High Court Order was delivered by the bench comprising Chief Justice Mrs G Rohini and Justice Rajiv Endlaw.  While dismissing the PIL the court considered an earlier PIL, on a similar matter, which was dismissed by it. The judgement stated that respondents counsel drew our attention to its Order dated 8 July 2014 in W.P. (C) No.3952/2014 titled Atul Agarwal Vs. Union of India. Order dated 8 July 2014 states that: Counsel for Atul Agarwal  admitted that he was not aware of any grievance made by any of the shareholders of the companies listed thereon, ....that he (Atul Agarwal) claims to hold license of a commercial pilot “and has been unable to satisfy us as to how he is entitled to file the petition in public interest” and the Hon’ble Court  ordered that “We are therefore not inclined to entertain this petition at the behest of the petitioner as a PIL and dismiss the same”.
 
In the Midas petition the court observed that “it cannot be said that the reliefs claimed in this petition are any different from that claimed in Atul Agarwal supra..... We therefore, do not see any reason to take a different view from that taken by us in Atul Agarwal and dismiss this petition. “
 
According to Midas Touch, “In the humble view of the petitioner, there has been some oversight in dismissing our (Midas) PIL, as the Order is based on some factual errors.”
 
The order states “that  it cannot be said that the reliefs claimed in this petition are any different from that claimed in Atul Agarwal supra” contains  factual error which is evident from perusal of orders in Atul Agarwal and Midas. The reliefs claimed by Midas Touch in its petition and stated in the Hon’ble Court’s Order are distinctly different from those sought by Atul Agarwal. None of the reliefs sought is common. Briefly, reliefs prayed by Midas, but not sought by Atul Agarwal, are:
 
(i) to direct SEBI to implement the Delisting Regulations, as enunciated in the Circular dated 29th December, 2008
 
(ii) to restore the fundamental rights of the shareholders of 5,152 companies which were exclusively listed at RSEs
 
(iii) to direct all RSEs, including the derecognised stock exchanges, to issue orders of delisting individually for all 5,152 companies exclusively listed on those RSEs and who have failed to get themselves listed at BSE or NSE
 
(iv) to frame a proper mechanism to compensate shareholders of companies listed on RSEs who have suffered huge loss due to de-recognition of various RSEs.
 
On the issue of non-issue of investor complaints, Midas counsel had also replied to this query from the court when SEBI counsel argued that Midas has not received any complaint from the investors on this issue. Madhumita Bhattacharjee refuted this argument and drew the courts attention to Midas letter to SEBI annexed with the writ petition. It contained a list of 966 investor grievances relating to 161 companies, which had disappeared lock, stock and barrel and requested action by SEBI but no action was taken. 
 
“This will deepen the mistrust of one crore investors in integrity of securities market resulting in his shying away from investment with wide ramifications on Indian economy” said Virendra Jain, President, Midas Touch Investors Association. He further stated that “we have been advised by our counsel to file an Appeal in the Hon’ble Supreme Court against the High Court’s Order. We have accepted her advice and intend to appeal”.
 

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COMMENTS

Prakash Sheth

1 year ago

Delhi high court firstly committed a serious error by dismissing Atul Agarwal's PIL on the filmsy ground of Atul being not entitled to file the PIL. Any citizen, irrespective of he himself being aggrieved with the illegality or irregularity highlighted, can challenge the same for the benefit of the general public. DHC's reasoning in its order dismissing Atul's PIL is unfortunate and unheard of. DHC committed 2nd error by dismissing Midas PIL relying on Atul's order, when infact there cannot be any comparison of the two matters. In any case, it is unfortunate that DHC could not see that Midas investors, much unlike Atul, had a locus standi to file this PIL. Unfortunate. Our higher judiciary delivers, at times more often than none, such judgments as are undigestable and illogical even from a common man's viewpoint and are against commonsense. When carried into appeal before the Supreme Court, the chance of success is 1 to 1000, as supreme court gets carrie away by media pressure,by the weight of the counsel arguing the matter and by personal beliefs and thoughts of its judges hearing the matter. A staring eample is that of Coca Cola Compound case. Supreme court made history by turning upside down its own decision without anybody having challenged it, and when infact supreme court itself had no power to do so in the light of having dismissed the review petition. But what to do? There is no one superior to supreme. So who will listen to the complaint that supreme has done wrong?

REPLY

V K JAIN

In Reply to Prakash Sheth 1 year ago

Mr. Sheth,
You have rightly observed the extremely thin chance of an Appeal in Supreme Court. Nevertheless, we at Midas Touch, intend to make our best effort, notwithstanding our thin resources. It would be great if some investors and well meaning people join collectively to build an organisation which can take up such larger issues, in and outside judiciary. Otherwise, it may take few decades to even make marginal improvements.

Virendra Jain
President
Midas Touch Investors Association

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