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.