SEBI committee order continues to remain hidden from the public.
But for how long?
A petitioner from Mumbai, Girish Mittal, had taken recourse to the Right to Information (RTI) Act last April asking for disclosure of the order by the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) on National Stock Depositories Ltd (NSDL) of the two-member committee comprising Dr Mohan Gopal and V Leeladhar. SEBI has kept away the committee’s order from public scrutiny for almost a year now, allegedly for self-serving reasons. In late October, the RTI appeal came up for hearing before the Central Information Commissioner (CIC). This CIC hearing concluded without a verdict and another one has been scheduled. On the petitioner’s allegation that the SEBI committee report has been withheld unlawfully and goes against the spirit of the RTI Act and the SEBI Act, SEBI replied that, since the matter involving NSDL was still under investigation, SEBI would not be in a position to make the order public. Under Section 8(1)(h) of the RTI Act, there is no obligation for the respondent to disclose any information which would impede the process of investigation.
The CIC, however, questioned the validity of this argument, since the investigation has concluded quite some time back. The petitioner had also asked for SEBI to release the minutes of board meetings held between April 2008 and April 2009. While SEBI has put up the necessary details of meetings held from December 2008, minutes of meetings held prior to that are still not in the public domain. SEBI pointed out that the Board was yet to take a decision on the minutes and, under Section 8(1)(d) of the RTI Act, SEBI was exempted from disclosing any information which would harm the competitive position of a third party.
SEBI has decided to release the information on decisions taken from 4 December 2008 onwards. SEBI claimed that any disclosure at this stage would ‘adversely impact the capital markets’ and, hence, would not be in the best interest of the public. Mr Mittal, in turn, argued that disclosing the decisions of the board would serve overriding public interest. In the end, SEBI sought more time from the CIC to come up with an adequate response for claiming exemption under the law for withholding the disclosure.