Rejecting the PIO's claim for exemption under Section 8(1)(d) & (e) of the RTI Act, the CIC said, since the information was over 20 years old, it should be provided. This is the 126th in a series of important judgements given by former Central Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi that can be used or quoted in an RTI application
The Central Information Commission (CIC), while allowing an appeal, directed the Public Information Officer (PIO) of Bank of India to provide information about public provident fund (PPF) records that were over 20 years old. The PIO had claimed exemption under Section 8(1)(d) & (e) of the Right to Information (RTI) Act.
While giving this judgement on 29 July 2009, Shailesh Gandhi, the then Central Information Commissioner said, “The Commission as well as all PIOs have to follow the provisions of the RTI Act and cannot on their own start deciding disclosure of which information would be good for society.”
Kandivali (Mumbai) resident Jignesh V Thakkar, on 4 June 2010, sought details of PPF accounts with the bank relating to the 10 year period between 1 April 1979 and 31 March 1989 from the PIO of Bank of India, under the Right to Information (RTI) Act. Here is the information he sought and the reply given by the PIO...
Details of PPF accounts for all branches under the jurisdiction of the Bank of India which have completed the initial investment period i.e. 15 years (or completed the extended period) for which the maturity amount is not yet claimed or intimation of further extension is not yet received. The details are required for the 10 financial years i.e. from 1 April 1979 till 31 March 1989. The details wanted were:
a. PPF account number
b. PPF account holder's name
c. Complete postal address of the account holder
d. Contact numbers of the account holder
e. Email address of the account holder
f. The date on which the PPF account matured
g. The amount payable to the account holder
h. If such PPF account holder is also holding a savings bank account in the branch then the complete name, address, contact numbers of the person who has signed as introducer for the savings account
i. Details of the steps taken to contact the account holder to inform about the PPF maturity
PIO's reply: The information sought falls under the exemption provided under Section 8(1)(d) & (e) of the Right to Information Act and also it would cause unwarranted invasion of the privacy of the individuals. Thereby the request for information is rejected.
Not satisfied with the PIO’s reply, Thakkar then filed his first appeal. In his order the First Appellate Authority (FAA), while upholding the PIO's decision said, “The information sought is third party individuals and is of commercial confidence in nature. The said information is held by the bank under fiduciary relationship and relates to personal information. Therefore, the said information being exempted under section 8(1)(d), (e) & (j) of the Act cannot be supplied to you (Thakkar).”
Thakkar then approached the CIC with his second appeal. In the appeal, he stated...
1. The First Appellate Authority did not provide the details of the procedure for the second appeal.
2. “The information which is 20 year old can be denied only under sub-clause (a), (c) & (i) of section 8 and no other sub-section. Hence the denial of information under section 8(1)(d) & 8(1)(e) of the RTI Act is not allowed.”
3. Failure to comply with the guidelines issued by the Government of India—Guidelines issued by Government of India, Ministry of Personnel, P.G. and Pensions Department of Personnel and Training dated 25 April 2008 for the officers designate as the first appellate authority under the RTI Act 2005 clearly states that the information can only be denied under clause (a), (c) & (i) of Section 8. Therefore information cannot be denied under section 8(1)(d), 8(1)(e) & 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act.
4. Failure to provide speaking order—from the appellate order—it is evident that the first appellate authority has completely ignored the clear guidelines issued by the Government of India based on observation of CIC.
5. Existence of Public Interest – “It is important to emphasis that as the matter pertains to public money, definitely there exists ‘larger public interest’.”
During the hearing through video conferencing, Mr Gandhi, the then CIC noted that the PIO has denied information about PPF accounts with the bank claiming exemption under Section 8(1)(d) & (e) of the RTI Act. In his appeal, Thakkar, the appellant, argued that since the information was 20 years old, as per the provisions of Section 8(3) of the RTI Act, he should be provided the information.
Section 8(3) of the RTI Act states,
“Subject to the provisions of clauses (a), (c) and (i) of sub-section (1), any information relating to any occurrence, event or matter which has taken place, occurred or happened twenty years before the date on which any request is made under Section 6 shall be provided to any person making a request under that section:”
Mr Gandhi noted that it was clear that the exemptions sought for non-disclosure by the PIO are not covered under clauses (a), (c) & (i) of sub-section (1) of the RTI Act.
The PIO stated that disclosure of such information could lead to some misuse of the information.
Mr Gandhi said, “The Commission as well as all PIOs have to follow the provisions of the RTI Act and cannot on their own start deciding disclosure of which information would be good for society.”
The PIO also stated that PPF Act, 1968, and the Scheme there under this information cannot be disclosed.
Section 20(2) of the RTI Act clearly states,
“The provisions of this Act shall have effect notwithstanding anything inconsistent therewith contained in the Official Secrets Act, 1923, and any other law for the time being in force or in any instrument having effect by virtue of any law other than this Act.”
Mr Gandhi said, as far as disclosing information is concerned the RTI Act supersedes provisions of all earlier Acts.
“The Commission does not accept the plea of the PIO for refusal to give the information under Section 8(1)(d) &(e) of the RTI Act since the information is over 20 years old and the provisions of Section 8(3) of the RTI Act will apply in the instant case,” he said.
While allowing the appeal, the CIC directed the PIO to provide the information sought to the appellant (Thakkar) before 25 September 2011.
CENTRAL INFORMATION COMMISSION
Decision No. CIC/SM/A/2011/001324/SG/14256
Appeal No. CIC/SM/A/2011/001324/SG
Appellant : Jignesh V. Thakkar,
Kandivali (E), Mumbai -400101
Respondent : Shivram Naskar
PIO & Dy. GM
Mumbai North Zone,
Bank of India
Bank of India Building, 2nd Floor,
Opp. Natraj Market,
SV Road, Malad (W)
In January 2008 the dollar fetched Rs39.27 and now it is hovering around Rs60, thus losing about 34% of its value. Due to the practically free import policy, relatively free and unrestricted travel abroad, billions of dollars are being utilized, leading to deficits
It is true that Benjamin (Ben) Bernanke, chairman of the US Federal Reserve, caused a worldwide monetary tumble by slowing down the bond buying programme, which in all possibility may come to an end by the close of the year.
This simple indication has resulted in the dollar strengthening against major world currencies. Since April this year, except for the British pound and the Chinese Renminbi (Yuan, as it is popularly known), a number of currencies such as the Brazilian Real, Rand, Indian Rupee, Mexican and Philippines Pesos, Russian Rouble, Turkish Lira, Indonesian Rupiah, the Malaysian Ringgit, Thai Baht, South Korean Won and the Euro fell by various percentages. The lowest was the Euro at 0.15% while the South African Rand fell by 13.99%.
Each country has its own domestic reasons and relatively poor export performance may have caused this fall apart from the issue of GDP and the rest, but the very fact that the US may have to slow down the bond buying may have additionally precipitated this fall!
This is an extremely difficult and unpredictable subject to handle and fathom, as so many factors play a role in the process.
As far as the Indian rupee is concerned, first and foremost is the crossing of the Rs60 barrier that had somehow held up for more than two years. And a few days ago, it crossed this threshold.
It may be recalled that in January 2008 the dollar fetched Rs39.27 and now it is hovering around Rs60, thus losing about 34% of its value. Exporters are happy for this windfall gain, but, the importers have to pay so much more to get their goods.
Is this depreciation of the rupee a temporary phenomenon, or is it likely to slide further down to Rs62-Rs65 range? And, will it stop there and what are the chances for recovery? Very difficult to say and even more difficult to predict!
And what should the government do, what role can the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) play effectively to stop this fall?
The first is the international repercussion due to the worldwide reaction to the Federal Reserve’s move. On this, none but the US has the control.
Second is the peculiar situation of black market trade that is highly prevalent in the rupee exchange rate due to the ‘hawala’ transactions. As we write this, it has come to light that four trucks carrying money, jewellery, etc from Mumbai to Gujarat were caught with some Rs200 crore worth of these materials, said to be for settlement of ‘hawala’ transactions, and the investigation is still going on. This racket is several decades old and in spite of various attempts, there appears to be no end in sight.
The third important factor is that billions of dollars are remitted back to India every month by the expatriate Indian population working abroad, particularly in the Middle East. No doubt there is substantial transaction of this expatriate wealth that takes the ‘hawala’ route!
Fourth is the huge amount of money that has been stashed away in Switzerland and other countries on which the government has the relevant information, but for reasons known to it, is not making the details pubic. This lot, of course, has escaped the tax net of the government and generally classified as “black money” abroad on which discussions have been going on for years. It is a separate issue that such large sums of unaccounted, un-taxed money, also known as black money is within the country, running a parallel economy.
Finally, due to the practically free import policy, relatively free and unrestricted travel abroad, billions of dollars are being utilized, leading to deficits. In fact, today, our foreign exchange reserves are now roughly 15% of the GDP, which is one of the lowest in the region.
And, on the top of all these not-too-rosy conditions, general elections are only a few months away.
With all these in the background, what are the steps that can be taken to protect the rupee? Here are some suggestions for the government:
a) Consider seriously establishing two rates of exchange for the rupee against the major currencies
b) instead of allowing the rupee to float, officially devalue the currency and fix a realistic price of exchange. The real value of the rupee may be pegged at about Rs63 to a dollar
c) this is probably the going rate for ‘hawala’ transactions; such a rate may help to eliminate the ‘hawala’ system altogether
d) encourage expatriate Indians working (and living permanently abroad) to remit funds through banking channels
e) such NRI/OCI remittances be given an additional rate of interest benefit, if the FDRs are for three years or more
f) discourage and restrict items of imports that are easily obtainable from indigenous sources; all such finished goods, if imported, will have to pay a penal rate of import duty over and above existing levels; all items under ‘OGL’ need to be reviewed and curtailed where possible
g) all imports of essential raw materials, capital goods and maintenance spares, obtained under export incentive replenishment licenses, like the erstwhile schemes, will have a lower exchange rate so as to encourage exports, which will earn higher rupee rates
Unless the government takes serious steps, including the total ban of reckless import of gold, the rupee is heading for a further fall.
(AK Ramdas has worked with the Engineering Export Promotion Council of the ministry of commerce and was associated with various committees of the Council. His international career took him to places like Beirut, Kuwait and Dubai at a time when these were small trading outposts; and later to the US.)
A Better America Now had spent money on mailers linking a congressional candidate to "left-wing extremists" and a controversy involving an endangered spider
Shortly before Election Day last year, mailers went out to Texas voters featuring pictures of a Democratic congressional candidate and a rare species of spider, whose discovery had forced stoppage of an important highway construction project.
“The same left-wing extremists who support Pete Gallego want more burdensome regulations that put the interests of spiders above our need to create more jobs,” the flier declared, referring to discovery of the endangered Braken Bat Cave meshweaver. “The best way to stop left-wing extremists from killing jobs is to vote against their hand-picked candidate Pete Gallego.”
The group that put out the mailer, A Better America Now, reported to the Federal Election Commission it had spent about $65,000 for the mailer and TV advertising in the hard-fought race to represent Texas’ 23rd district.
But in a tax return recently filed with the IRS, the group claimed it did not spend any money at all on “direct or indirect political campaign activities.”
We first reported on A Better America Now earlier this year, showing it had told the IRS in a 2011 application for nonprofit status that it did not plan to spend any money on elections. (That document was sent to ProPublica last year by the IRS, even though the application was still pending and thus not supposed to be released.)
“This type of inaccurate reporting by electioneering nonprofit groups has a long history,” says Public Citizen’s Craig Holman, when asked about the group’s most recent filing. “It is rooted in the fact that the IRS almost never holds these groups accountable for such false declarations.”
A Better America Now was a bit player in the elections. But it’s also an example of the kind of increasingly common outside groups that inject anonymous money into political campaigns.
Such social welfare nonprofits are not supposed to have political campaign activity as their primary purpose — but the ambiguities around how the IRS measures such activity and how it screens the groups are at the center of the recent investigations of the IRS’s treatment of Tea Party groups.
ProPublica has documented how nonprofits that spent millions of dollars on ads in the 2010 elections failed to report or underreported that political spending to the IRS. The tax form that the groups are required to file with the IRS specifically asks for details on any campaign spending.
One of the curious things about A Better America Now is that, though the group spent money in a congressional and a state legislative race in southwest Texas, it is based a few miles off the beach near Jacksonville, Florida.
The president of A Better America Now, Portrie, is also the head of a consulting firm, the Fenwick Group. The two groups are listed at the same address. Fenwick’s website says it works with “organizations across the healthcare, financial services, insurance, retail and investment sectors.”
Portrie and Fenwick were also linked to ads run by another Florida-based social welfare nonprofit, America is Not Stupid, in last year’s U.S. Senate race in Montana. Ads by America is Not Stupid featured a talking baby complaining about alleged cuts to Medicare by President Obama, and referring to the baby’s stinking diaper.
In 2010, the New York Times reported on links between the Fenwick Group and yet another politically active nonprofit, the Coalition to Protect Seniors. Ads by that group featured the same talking baby ad.
In last year’s race in Texas, which attracted a lot of outside spending on both sides, the Democrat, Gallego, prevailed over Republican incumbent Quico Canseco.