Bar Council Penalised for Not Displaying RTI Section on Website
Section 4 of the Right to Information (RTI) Act makes it mandatory for every public authority to suo moto display on its official website an RTI Section that provides basic information of the Act as well as in-depth information. However, 12 long years after the implementation of this citizen-empowering law, most of the public authorities have failed to comply with this directive, forcing the citizens to file RTI applications for procuring the information they require.
 
In the first week of October, the Central Information Commission (CIC) has slapped a penalty of Rs5000 on the Central Public Information Officer (CPIO) of the Bar Council, Delhi (BCD), for failing to dedicate a section on its website for RTI. Chief Information Commissioner Radha Krishna Mathur objected to the callous attitude of BCD in not providing information under the RTI Act; and instead asking for more time by not attending three CIC hearings and still not giving the information thereafter. The BCD, after the CIC order, has agreed to provide the required information to the RTI applicant.
 
Shashi, the RTI applicant had filed a second appeal with the CIC as she did not get from the CPIO, BCD, a copy of the file notings and the resolutions relating to an increment in the enrolment fee for advocates wanting to become members of BCD in the last five years. She stated at the CIC hearing that she was compelled to file an RTI application as the relevant section of the BCD website throws up a ‘Not Found’ message, which is in defiance of Section 4(1)(b) of the RTI Act. As a result, the address of the CPIO/1st appellate authority is not displayed for the information of the general public.’’
 
She appealed to the CIC that penalty should be imposed on the CPIO, BCD for not providing her with the required information in time and also for not complying with the RTI Act. She also sought a token compensation on account of loss of her valuable time and the mental agony she suffered. 
 
The CIC order states that, “The representative of the Bar Council of Delhi agreed to provide to the RTI applicant a certified copy of the complete file notings and the resolutions relating to the increment in enrolment fee during the five-year period prior to the date of receipt of this RTI application, within 15 days from the date of receipt of this order. Moreover, he stated that he has not been properly briefed by the CPIO, as he had been recently appointed.’’
 
The CIC directed that the website of the Bar Council of Delhi should be updated as per the RTI Act. “The CPIO, BCD should intimate this factual position to the Commission, within 30 days from the date of receipt of this order,” he said. 
 
“The CPIO, BCD remained absent for CIC hearings, thrice. It appears that the CPIO has failed to honour his legal obligations under the RTI Act by repeatedly making excuses for the delay in giving the information. Moreover, the CPIO has not submitted any written submissions/explanations with regard to the delay and his absence on each day of the hearing,’’ he added.
 
Commenting upon the man deputed to represent the CPIO at the CIC hearing, who admitted to having scant knowledge of the case, CIC Mathur said, “It does not seem appropriate for the CPIO not to depute any suitable officer for attending the CIC hearing/attending to RTI application(s). This lack of a sense of responsibility from the respondent authority reflects his utter disregard for the law. The CPIO could have sent his authorised representative to present his case but he failed in his legal duty.” 
 
CIC Mathur further stated: “Due to the absence and inaction of the CPIO, the appellant could not get this information in time. This is a fit case for imposing penalty on the CPIO on the ground of delay/denial of information by the CPIO by being absent on all the previous occasions. He did not care to convey even to this Commission the reasons for the delay. Hearings were scheduled one after the other, giving ample opportunity to the respondent (CPIO) to present his case. Despite this, he did not fulfil his legal obligation of timely supply of information to the appellant. It is observed that merely citing the incidence of the verification process by the Bar Council of Delhi does not absolve the CPIO from his legal duty under the RTI Act.’’
 
Warning the CPIO and the chairman of BCD against remaining absent from any further hearings, CIC Mathur imposed a penalty of Rs5,000 on the CPIO. However, it did not consider Shashi’s request for compensation for the delay as she had not explained any loss and detriment suffered by her due to non-supply of information as per the RTI Act. No case oVinita f compensation is therefore made out in the matter.
 
There are hundreds of public authorities who do not abide by the requirement of suo motu disclosures under Section 4 of the RTI Act. There is an urgent need for the Chief Central Information Commissioner to track down such defaulters and issue orders for compliance to public authorities from time to time.
 
(Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife, an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte” with Vinita Kamte and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”.)
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RBI Governor Gets Show Cause Notice from CIC for Not Disclosing Defaulters’ List
The Central Information Commission (CIC) has issued a show-cause notice to Dr Urjit Patel, governor of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) for not honouring a judgement of the Supreme Court on disclosure of wilful defaulters’ list who had not paid loans of Rs50 crore and more. 
 
In the notice, central information commissioner Prof Sridhar Acharyulu had also asked the prime minister’s office (PMO), finance ministry and RBI to make public the letter sent by previous governor Raghuram Rajan on bad loans.
 
In the order, Prof Acharyulu stated, ""The Commission finds no merit in hiding the names of, details and action against willful defaulters of big bad loans worth hundreds of crores of rupees. The RBI shall disclose the bad debt details of defaulters worth more than Rs1,000 crore at the beginning, of Rs500 crore or less at later stage within five days and collect such information from the banks in due course to update their voluntary disclosures from time to time as a practice under Section 4(1)(b) of RTI Act."
 
Prof Acharyulu, irked over the denial of information on wilful defaulters who had unpaid loans of Rs50 crore and more, asked the RBI governor to explain why maximum penalty should not be imposed on him for ‘dishonouring’ a verdict from the apex court, which had upheld a decision taken by then Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi, calling for disclosure of names of wilful defaulters. 
 
Prof Acharyulu also referred to a speech by Dr Patel at the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) where he had talked about CVC guidelines and how it were aimed to greater transparency. “The Commission feels that there is no match between what RBI governor and deputy governor say and their website regarding their RTI policy, and great secrecy of vigilance reports and inspection reports is being maintained with impunity in spite of the Supreme Court confirming the orders of the CIC in the Jayantilal case”, Prof Acharyulu had said. 
 
In normal circumstances, the public information officer (PIO) is held responsible for any lapses and penalised for not obeying orders passed by the CIC. However, in this case, Prof Acharyulu felt that punishing the CPIO of RBI will not serve any purpose as he may have followed instructions from the top authorities. 
 
Thus, he said, “The Commission considers the RBI governor as deemed PIO responsible for non-disclosure and defiance of Supreme Court and CIC orders and directs him to show cause before 16 November 2018 as to why maximum penalty should not be imposed on him for these reasons.” 
 
Earlier this year, the CIC had asked the finance ministry, the ministry of statistics & implementation and RBI to make public, the names of those bank loan defaulters whose unpaid loans amount to Rs50 crore and above.
 
This order is a sequel to the information sought by an RTI (Right to Information) applicant who was refused information by the central public information officer (CPIO) of the ministry of labour & employment. The RTI applicant had sought information on two issues. One was directly related to the labour & welfare ministry comprising information on employment guarantee schemes. The second related to the names of loan defaulters of Rs50 crore and above which the ministry has nothing to do with, but it was the duty of the CPIO to forward the RTI application to the relevant public authorities—in this case, the ministries of finance and of statistics and implementation and the RBI.
 
The CIC also pointed out that “Section 4(1) (c) of the RTI Act mandates to publish all relevant facts while formulating important policies or announcing the decisions which affect the public; section (d) says provide reasons for its administrative or quasi-judicial decisions to affected persons. What is the policy of the finance ministry, the ministry for statistics and program implementation and the RBI in dealing with the wilful defaulters of Rs50 crore and above?’’
 
Earlier in February 2016, the Supreme Court directed RBI to furnish a list of the companies which are in default of loans in excess of Rs500 crore or whose loans have been restructured under corporate debts restructuring (CDR) scheme by banks and financial institutions. (Read: Supreme Court asks RBI to submit list of big defaulters)
 
Even in December 2015, the apex court, in a landmark judgement, has told the RBI that the banking regulator cannot withhold information citing 'fiduciary relations' under the Right to Information (RTI) Act. Hearing a set of transferred cases, a Division Bench of Justice MY Eqbal and Justice C Nagappan 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."
 
In most of the transferred cases, Mr Gandhi, former CIC, while directing the RBI to provide information sought by applicants, had rejected the central bank's contention of 'fiduciary relation' for denying information. 
 
Here is the link to the RTI Judgement Series based on orders passed by Mr Gandhi as CIC.
 
You may also want to read…
 
 
 
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Moneylife Impact: NRIs Eligible To File RTI Shows Corrected Reply from Lok Sabha
Non-resident Indians (NRIs) also have a right to seek information under the provision of Right to Information (RTI) Act, says a reply corrected by the Lok Sabha. Delhi-based RTI activist, commodore (Cmde) Lokesh Batra (retd) had received a reply that NRIs were not eligible to file an RTI application. Cmde Batra took up the issue with all authorities about ineligibility of NRIs to file RTI. 
 
The rectified response to an unstarred question by Dr Jitendra Singh, minister of state in the prime minister's office (PMO), now states, "All citizens of India have the right to seek information under the provisions of RTI Act, 2005. Non-resident Indian citizens are eligible to file RTI applications."
 
Cmde Batra says, "It is not every day the government accepts mistake of this kind leading to correction of response given by a minister of state that too under the PMO. I had shared the Moneylife story to all concerned at highest level to make necessary rectification." (Read: RTI Reveals Government Doesn’t Know Who Is an NRI)
 
Varsha Sinha, director in the US-RTI division in the Department of Personnel & Training (DoPT) told Cmde Batra that "The corrected reply to the Lok Sabha Question No.3535 has been uploaded on the official site of the Lok Sabha on 26 October 2018."
 
Here is the rectified reply as provided by Ms Sinha...
 
 
After the faulty reply from the minister in the Lok Sabha, Cmde Batra (retd) had filed an RTI application with the DoPT to get some clarity on the definition of an NRI. "As I understand it, NRIs are very much citizens of India, holding an Indian passport, but whose stay abroad exceeds 182 days in any financial year. Thus, NRIs also have the right to seek information under the provision of the RTI Act, 2005," he had said.
 
In fact, the government, in its circular in 2013 had stated under 'Right of NRIs' that "…under the current provisions of the RTI Act, NRIs can file RTI applications seeking information either from a particular Mission or Post abroad or from the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) itself. Accordingly, a fee of Rs10 per application, equivalent in local currency is accepted by Missions and Posts abroad." 
 
Despite this, the minister made a statement, in August 2018, that NRIs cannot file an RTI application, although they have been given the facility in over 176 countries through missions and posts.
 
With the rectification from the Lok Sabha, the route for NRIs to file RTI application for seeking information from Indian public authorities is now clear.
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