Central information commissioner (CIC), Prof Sridhar Acharyulu has directed the finance ministry, the ministry of statistics & implementation and the Reserve Bank of India (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.
As per the CIC’s observation in his order, records show that the CPIO did not forward the RTI application to the appropriate ministry, which is mandatory under the RTI Act.
Sandeep Singh Jadoun, the RTI applicant, sought the following information from the ministry of labour & employment (which included information related to loan defaulters as well as employment schemes):
- Number of willful defaulters (those who are unwilling to pay despite having the capacity to do so) of loans of Rs50 crore and above, advanced by banks and other financial institutions; with or without guarantees;
- The names of guarantors, details of loans such as dates of sanction and default and details of non-performing assets (NPA) accounts;
- The cost and investment of the projects for employment generating schemes initiated by the Central government between 2005 and 2018.
- List of failed projects and projects, which only existed on paper and were never introduced on the floor, with which the ministry of labour and employment (MoLE) is concerned.
The CPIO declined to provide the information, stating that since records pertaining to loan defaulters are not maintained by the MoLE, he had forwarded the RTI application to the finance ministry. As for the employment schemes, he told the CIC during the hearing last week, that all information regarding employment schemes launched by the government such as the Pradhan Mantri Rojgar Protsahan Yojana (PMRPY) was available on the website www.ncs.gov.in and at a toll-free number 1800-4251514, both of which are functional from Tuesdays to Sundays.
However, the RTI applicant, Jadoun, argued that the information he was seeking was more elaborate in terms of details of costs and investments involved in the employment-generating projects and schemes launched since 2005.
The officer responded that such information is available with the regional offices under the jurisdiction of the ministry of rural development, and the ministry of skill development and entrepreneurship. He also claimed to have forwarded the RTI application to other related ministries for more information.
The CIC observed that the records show that the CPIO had not transferred the RTI application to the other public authorities. The CIC observed, “When the CPIO does not transfer an RTI request to the appropriate authority, it becomes his duty to collect the information and furnish it to the appellant. The CPIO dismissed the request saying “information was not maintained in the form sought”, which is neither a defence nor an exception. This is not recognised as an excuse to deny information under any of the provisions of RTI.”
Regarding the number of wilful loan defaulters of Rs50 crore and above, the CIC referred to several newspaper reports and stated that such information should be made public under Section 4 of the RTI Act. He writes in his order that this RTI applicant has given the opportunity to the ministry to upload the information as the public at large has the right to know the names of individuals who have been given loans above Rs50 crore. Similarly, it must share the names of those who have defaulted and if none have defaulted, it should say so in the public domain.
CIC further states in the order, “The question is, that when the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has authorised the banks to prepare the list of wilful defaulters of Rs25 lakh, and after ensuring that no genuine loan-taker’s name is published in the list of wilful defaulters, why not ensure publication of the details of wilful defaulters of Rs50 crore and above as sought by this appellant, to the nation to fulfil the right to information of the citizens? And why should the government of India, the ministries of finance and for statistics and program implementation and the RBI not reveal the action taken or contemplated to recover the loans from wilful defaulters beyond Rs50 crore, reasons for the failure, criminal actions initiated, or reasons for not initiating criminal actions etc to the people?’’
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, Shailesh 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.
Why the information on loan defaulters above Rs50 crore should be made public: The CIC referred to the following news reports to qualify his order directing the finance ministry and the RBI to provide information on loan defaulters as asked by the RTI applicant:
- After several bank officials were arrested in Rs11300 crore scam, involving the Punjab National Bank, the All India Bank Officers Confederation (AIBOC) (with a membership of three lakh officers) has posed a challenge to the Central government for the publication of the names of wilful defaulters of all banks. AIBOC asked why the RBI was hesitating to publish the list of such defaulters as Vijay Mallya, Nirav Modi and Mehul Choksi and why they were allowed to leave the country. AIBOC questioned banks; the way they are writing off loans of thousands of crores every year in favour of these corporates, which itself was major scam. AIBOC has alleged that the RBI and the government did not correct the system despite it being well known that SWIFT system has been used for frauds in the nineties. (https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/bank-officers-union-challenges-govt-to-publish-names-of-defaulters-1175659-2018-02-23)
- The apprehensions of AIBOC were proved by media’s analytical reports. One report last year says about 7,000 millionaires shifted their residence outside India, or changed their citizenship, leaving the banks, economy of the nation, public exchequer and public sector banks bleeding.
- In April 2018 the Fugitive Economic Offenders Ordinance was passed. A committee headed by financial services secretary Rajiv Kumar, with representatives from the RBI, the ministries of home and external affairs, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has since recommended stopping willful defaulters with loans exceeding Rs50 crore from travelling overseas without prior approval.
- In March, banks had been directed to seek the passport details of borrowers taking loans of Rs50 crore and more. The website reported that for the quarter ended June 30, 2018, as many as 3,385 suits were filed against defaulting companies that had willfully defaulted on loans of Rs25 lakh and above - amounting to a whopping Rs57,523.90 crore. The finance ministry had also directed public sector banks (PSBs) to examine all NPA accounts of over Rs50 crore for possible fraud and accordingly report the cases to concerned investigating agencies, including CBI, ED and DRI, if any wrongdoing was detected.(https://www.businesstoday.in/current/economy-politics/-wilful defaulters-with-loans-over-rs-50-crore-from-foreign-travel/story/281122.html)
- The RBI has issued a master circular regarding willful defaulters, on 30 June 2015. It says that pursuant to the instructions of the Central Vigilance Commission for collection of information on willful defaults of Rs25 lakh and above by RBI and dissemination to the reporting banks and financial institutions (FIs), a scheme was framed by RBI with effect from 1 April 1999 under which the banks and notified all India financial institutions were required to submit to RBI the details of the willful defaulters. This circular recommended criminal action by banks under Sections 403 to 415 of the Indian Penal Code, which deal with cheating.
- Ministry of corporate affairs had introduced the concept of a director identification number (DIN) with the insertion of Sections 266A to 266G in the Companies (Amendment) Act, 2006. In order to ensure that directors are correctly identified and in no case, persons whose names appear to be similar to the names of directors appearing in the list of willful defaulters, are wrongfully denied credit facilities on such grounds, banks / FIs have been advised to include the DIN as one of the fields in the data submitted by them to credit information companies.
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(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”.