Despite Sacking of CMD Parvez Ahmad, J&K Bank Continues to Defy RTI Act
Last week, when Parvez Ahmad, chairman and managing director (CMD) of Jammu & Kashmir Bank (J&K Bank) was sacked, there was a general air of jubilation in the state as he was allegedly involved in various financial irregularities in loan dispersals, among other issues. While activists are still skeptical about how far the authorities would go to actually cleanse up the bank, it is a one man crusade by Jammu-based right to information (RTI) activist, Raja Muzaffar Bhat, who is still fighting a relentless battle to bring transparency into the bank’s operations.
 
Despite orders by the Central Information Commission (CIC) in 2012 and subsequently by the State Administrative Council (SAC) of J&K on 22 November 2018, the bank refuses to come under the RTI Act. In fact, as a counter to the CIC order, in 2010, the bank approached the High Court and brought in a stay, which has still not been lifted. J&K government owns 59% stake in the bank.
 
Soon after the CMD was sacked, Bhat stated to Khabar, a TV channel, that,  “It is a good step by the government; we only hope its intentions are to bring about transparency and accountability to this premier financial institution of the State and that it won’t be just a hog wash.’’
 
As soon as the J&K RTI Act came into force in 2009, Bhat has been appealing to the government to bring the J&K Bank under the ambit of the RTI Act. Says he, “Finally the state’s chief information commissioner gave an order to this effect in 2012. However, the bank filed a petition in the J&K High Court in its Jammu branch and was successful in getting a stay order. Till today, the stay order has not been lifted!’’
 
On 22 November, 2018, the state administrative council (SAC) in its meeting decided that J&K Bank be brought under the ambit of the RTI Act. Bhat filed an RTI application to the governor’s office requesting the following information: 
 
  • Certified copy of the order issued by SAC/govt of J&K declaring J&K Bank a public authority and bringing it under the ambit of the J&K RTI Act 2009
  • List of the first appellate authorities (FAAs) and public information officers (PIOs) designated by the bank in compliance with SAC’s orders, along with their email ids and landline numbers
 
The governor’s office forwarded the RTI application to the finance department, the general administration department (GAD) and to the Chairman of the J&K Bank.
 
'Bhat had to file a first appeal as no information came by. The FAA too stated that the limited information supplied by the finance department was justified.
 
Subsequently, Feroq Ahmad Khan filed a second appeal with the state information commissioner. The J&K Bank representative contended during the hearing in March 2019 that the bank does not come under the ambit of the RTI and therefore no information can be provided under this law. He also reiterated that since the matter is pending with the High Court, the SIC order holds no water. 
 
The CIC observed that  “the said stay order does not in any way affect and does not have any bearing on the order of the CIC and J&K Bank cannot take resort to the interim order of Hon’ble High Court.’’ The CIC has directed the bank to implement the SAC order and to explain how the court order interferes with it.  
Bhat says despite facing defamation filed against him by the Bank, he relentlessly continued his pursuit to throw light on the grey areas in the Bank's functioning. 
 
"For example, I asked the Bank that it has shown a net profit of Rs465 crore for the fiscal ending 31 March 2019. I raised a simple question, the Bank has sold its 2.40 per cent stake in MetLife amounting to Rs185 crore. I sought explanation as to how the sale proceeds from selling of its stake in MetLife could become a part of the Bank's net profit," the RTI activist had told IANS.
 
He has raised many other questions through his RTI applications which have been brushed aside by the Bank's management.
 
"I raised a query as to what prompted the Bank to sell 1,800 crore of its bad debt portfolio to assets reconstruction companies (ARCs) at a discount of over 40% while the same borrowers reflected as bad debts by J&K Bank owed money to other banks where they were making repayments without any distress sale of such debts by those banks," Bhat said alleging that there is a strong reason to believe that a huge deal of over Rs200 crore was made by selling these debts at over 40% discount to ARCs.
 
Bhat also wanted the probe into mismanagement extended beyond the tenure of the sacked chairman Pervez Ahmed.
 
Quite clearly, sacking of one individual from the bank is not enough when all information pertaining to the larger public interest remains in secrecy!
 
(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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    RTI activist's protracted battle with J&K Bank likely to bear fruit
    Raja Muzaffar Bhat, president of Jammu and Kashmir RTI movement has fought a protracted battle with the management of the Jammu and Kashmir Bank seeking transparency and accountability in working and asset management by this premier financial institution of the state.
     
    Speaking exclusively to IANS, Bhat recalled his longstanding battle over the Bank's proclaimed exclusion from the RTI Act.
     
    "In 2009 the J&K RTI Act came into force. Soon after an Information Commission was constituted. I approached the Information Commission regarding the legality of the Jammu and Kashmir Bank remaining outside the purview of the Act.
     
    "The then Chief Information Commissioner G.R. Sofi delivered a detailed judgment declaring Jammu and Kashmir Bank as a public authority thereby making it obligatory that information sought under the RTI Act must be furnished by the Bank.
     
    "In 2010 the Bank got the RTI Commission's judgment stayed by the state high court. The stay order had still not been vacated.
     
    "On November 22, 2018 the State Administrative Council (SAC) headed by Governor Satya Pal Malik decided to bring the Bank under the RTI Act after declaring it as a public authority. State government owns 59 per cent shares of this bank.
     
    "I wrote an article in a daily newspaper saying that after the SAC decision the Jammu and Kashmir Bank has no valid legal reason for not furnishing information about its NPAs, huge loans to business houses, management of other assets etc.
     
    "Instead of furnishing the required information, the Bank filed a defamation suit of Rs 50 crore against me in a local court in February this year."
     
    "In my defence I told the court that I had not named any person or any business house that had been benefited by the Bank's management," he said.
     
    Bhat said despite facing defamation filed against him by the Bank, he relentlessly continued his pursuit to throw light on the grey areas in the Bank's functioning.
     
    "For example, I asked the Bank that it has shown a net profit of Rs 465 crore for the fiscal ending March 31, 2019. I raised a simple question, the Bank has sold its 2.40 per cent stake in MetLife amounting to Rs 185 crore. I sought explanation as to how the sale proceeds from selling of its stake in MetLife could become a part of the Bank's net profit," the RTI activist said.
     
    He has raised many other questions through his RTI applications which have been brushed aside by the Bank's management.
     
    "I raised a query as to what prompted the Bank to sell 1,800 crore of its bad debt portfolio to assets reconstruction companies (ARCs) at a discount of over 40 per cent while the same borrowers reflected as bad debts by Jammu and Kashmir Bank owed money to other banks where they were making repayments without any distress sale of such debts by those banks," Bhat said alleging that there is a strong reason to believe that a huge deal of over Rs 200 crore was made by selling these debts at over 40 per cent discount to ARCs.
     
    The RTI activist said he is satisfied with the steps being taken to bring transparency and accountability in the Jammu and Kashmir Bank, but wanted the probe into mismanagement extended beyond the tenure of the sacked Chairman Pervez Ahmed.
     
     Raja Muzaffar Bhat, president of Jammu and Kashmir RTI movement has fought a protracted battle with the management of the Jammu and Kashmir Bank seeking transparency and accountability in working and asset management by this premier financial institution of the state.
     
    Speaking exclusively to IANS, Bhat recalled his longstanding battle over the Bank's proclaimed exclusion from the RTI Act.
     
    "In 2009 the J&K RTI Act came into force. Soon after an Information Commission was constituted. I approached the Information Commission regarding the legality of the Jammu and Kashmir Bank remaining outside the purview of the Act.
     
    "The then Chief Information Commissioner G.R. Sofi delivered a detailed judgment declaring Jammu and Kashmir Bank as a public authority thereby making it obligatory that information sought under the RTI Act must be furnished by the Bank.
     
    "In 2010 the Bank got the RTI Commission's judgment stayed by the state high court. The stay order had still not been vacated.
     
    "On November 22, 2018 the State Administrative Council (SAC) headed by Governor Satya Pal Malik decided to bring the Bank under the RTI Act after declaring it as a public authority. State government owns 59 per cent shares of this bank.
     
    "I wrote an article in a daily newspaper saying that after the SAC decision the Jammu and Kashmir Bank has no valid legal reason for not furnishing information about its NPAs, huge loans to business houses, management of other assets etc.
     
    "Instead of furnishing the required information, the Bank filed a defamation suit of Rs 50 crore against me in a local court in February this year."
     
    "In my defence I told the court that I had not named any person or any business house that had been benefited by the Bank's management," he said.
     
    Bhat said despite facing defamation filed against him by the Bank, he relentlessly continued his pursuit to throw light on the grey areas in the Bank's functioning.
     
    "For example, I asked the Bank that it has shown a net profit of Rs 465 crore for the fiscal ending March 31, 2019. I raised a simple question, the Bank has sold its 2.40 per cent stake in MetLife amounting to Rs 185 crore. I sought explanation as to how the sale proceeds from selling of its stake in MetLife could become a part of the Bank's net profit," the RTI activist said.
     
    He has raised many other questions through his RTI applications which have been brushed aside by the Bank's management.
     
    "I raised a query as to what prompted the Bank to sell 1,800 crore of its bad debt portfolio to assets reconstruction companies (ARCs) at a discount of over 40 per cent while the same borrowers reflected as bad debts by Jammu and Kashmir Bank owed money to other banks where they were making repayments without any distress sale of such debts by those banks," Bhat said alleging that there is a strong reason to believe that a huge deal of over Rs 200 crore was made by selling these debts at over 40 per cent discount to ARCs.
     
    The RTI activist said he is satisfied with the steps being taken to bring transparency and accountability in the Jammu and Kashmir Bank, but wanted the probe into mismanagement extended beyond the tenure of the sacked Chairman Pervez Ahmed.
     
    Disclaimer: Information, facts or opinions expressed in this news article are presented as sourced from IANS and do not reflect views of Moneylife and hence Moneylife is not responsible or liable for the same. As a source and news provider, IANS is responsible for accuracy, completeness, suitability and validity of any information in this article.
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    RBI Defies Supreme Court; Holds Back Names of Officials Inspecting IL&FS
    The Reserve Bank of India (RBI), which has been subject to criticism from the Supreme Court for not sharing information under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, has again declined to share names and designations of officials responsible for monitoring and inspecting the fraud-hit Infrastructure Leasing & Financial Services (IL&FS) under the Act.
     
    That too when the Serious Frauds Investigation Office (SFIO) had already filed a charge-sheet based on the RBI inspection reports and named the officials, who were responsible for monitoring and inspecting the affairs of IL&FS. While the first appellate authority (FAA) had directed the central public information officer (CPIO) to furnish information on action taken by RBI against these officials, he too declined to share names of the officials by applying another section of the RTI Act. 
     
    As reported by Moneylife, the SFIO charge sheet mentions names of officers from the RBI involved in inspecting IL&FS. However, the apex bank has refused to provide the names and designations of officers who were responsible for monitoring IL&FS. 
     
    IL&FS, as a non-banking financial corporation (NBFC) comes under the jurisdiction of RBI as its regulator. Hence RBI is responsible for monitoring and regulating the affairs of IL&FS.  
     
    The SFIO, in their charge sheet, had relied on the inspection reports submitted by the RBI. 
     
    Keeping that in mind, we at Moneylife filed an RTI with the RBI asking them to provide us with details concerning
     
    1. Names and designations of officials in the Reserve Bank of India, who were responsible for monitoring IL&FS.
     
    2. Action taken by the RBI from July 2018 against the RBI officials who were responsible for monitoring and inspection of IL&FS 
     
    3. Records of discussions/meetings conducted by officials of RBI regarding action taken to prevent the failure of important non-banking financial companies. 
     
    Replying to the first query, the public information officer (PIO) of RBI stated that, “Department of non-banking supervision (DNBS) of the regional bank of the Reserve Bank of India monitors the NBFCs. Further, for the matter of IL&FS, you may contact our regional office.” 
     
    For the other two queries, the PIO stated that such information is not available with the RBI and disposed of the application. 
     
    An interesting thing to note here is that, Section 6(3) of the RTI act says, “Where an application is made to a public authority requesting for information, 
     
    (i) Which is held by another public authority; or 
     
    (ii) The subject matter of which is more closely connected with the functions of another public authority, 
     
    The public authority, to which such application is made, shall transfer the application or such part of it as may be appropriate to that other public authority and inform the applicant immediately about such transfer. 
     
    In this case, the PIO however did not forward the RTI application to the DNBS even though it was within the same office. 
     
    Considering the paucity of time and the need for information, we did however file another RTI with the DNBS to which we received a reply but no information. 
     
    The PIO of DNBS in his response quoted sections 8(i)(j) for denying information about names and designation of officials in the RBI, who were responsible for monitoring IL&FS. 
     
    Please note, section 8(i)(j) of the RTI act states, “information which relates to personal information, the disclosure of which has no relationship to any public activity or interest, or which would cause unwarranted invasion of the privacy of the individual unless the Central Public Information Officer or the State Public Information Officer or the appellate authority, as the case may be, is satisfied that the larger public interest justifies the disclosure of such information.” 
     
    However, under the law, there is a proviso attached with this particular exception, which states that, “Provided that the information, which cannot be denied to the Parliament or a State Legislature shall not be denied to any person.”
     
    This effectively means that any information, which the PIO will disclose to the Parliament or the state legislature, has to be disclosed to the citizens as well. 
     
    The PIO in this case, has failed to consider that proviso as he had altogether denied information. 
     
    For the other two questions, the PIO of DNBS again denied information quoting section 8(i)(h) of the RTI act which effectively states that “information which would impede the process of investigation or apprehension or prosecution of offenders shall not be shared. ”
     
    Therefore, when a PIO denies information under 8(i)(h) he or she is supposed to show how sharing that information would impede the process of investigation which in this case the PIO of DBNS in RBI has failed to do. 
     
    When we approached the FAA, he upheld the decision of the CPIO to deny information under the first query. He however, changed the section for denial of information to 8(1)(g) from 8(1)(j). 
     
    Former central information commissioner Shailesh Gandhi observed, “The First Appellant Authority has to act like a neutral arbitrator as he or she is occupying a quasi-judicial position. They cannot be cooking up new excuses for denial of Information.”  
     
    The FAA in its response stated, “I do not feel inclined to accept that CPIO is justified in claiming exemption under Section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act. ln my view, disclosure of information like names of concerned officers is exempt under clause (g) of sub section (1) of Section 8 of RTI Act, 2005 as it might endanger the life or physical safety of any person.”
     
    For the other two questions, the FAA directed the CPIO to furnish the information. “As regards the queries at point Nos. (ii)  and  (iii), I do not feel that revealing the information pertaining to the action taken, if any, by RBI against the officials responsible for monitoring and inspection of IL&FS; or records of discussion meetings conducted regarding action taken to prevent the failure of systematically important NBFCs would impede the process of investigation as provided under section 8(1)(h) of the RTI Act. The CPIO is therefore directed to revisit the queries and provide the information sought, subject to other provisions and exemptions under the RTI Act,” the FAA said.
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    COMMENTS

    Vaibhav Dhoka

    2 months ago

    It is always that regulators like RBI, SEBI, IRDAhave least concern about the duties they are appointed for. Their prime interest is fill the pockets as they are sure there is no responsibility attached to service conditions.

    Dr Benoy Kumar Chattapadhyaya

    2 months ago

    RBI Official are sending Fraud Mail to me through Regional Director Foreign Remittance Dpt. matter has been reported to Governor RBI as well as field RTI against RBI but no reply has given to me and no action has been taken. Please confirm what action taken?

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