SBI Stonewalls RTI Plea on Electoral Bonds, Despite Sharing Info with Government
The recent news reports of the State Bank of India having sold electoral bonds of Rs5851 crore in the months of March and April, spurred the Right to Information (RTI) activists to seek more information from the bank and from the department of economic affairs, finance ministry, but their requests  are being stonewalled.
 
Vihar Durve, Pune based RTI activist, to whom the SBI had replied under his RTI request that the SBI sold electoral bonds worth Rs1365.69 crore in March and Rs2256.37 in April, filed an RTI application for more information on this issue.
 
He has now asked them to furnish all letters between the years 2017 and 2019, falling under correspondence/directions/notifications/ emails relating to the electoral bonds received from the Reserve Bank of India, any other government department or any other competent authority. He has also asked for information on the action taken by SBI to all these correspondences and copies of the acts, rules, notifications, office memoranda and circulars relating to the electoral bonds.
 
The Central Public Information Officer (CPIO) has declined to provide information under the garb of it being an issue of `fiduciary relationship’ by stating in his reply that: ``Information sought by the applicant cannot be disclosed as it is in fiduciary capacity, disclosure of which is exempted under Section 8 (1) (e) and 8 (1) (j) of the RTI Act 2005; As for the requisition on the web link where such documents of larger public interest have been uploaded, the RBI stated in its reply that `no such web link is maintained.’’ Durve is planning a second appeal as well as seeking legal intervention.
 
Commodore Lokesh Batra (retd), noted Delhi based RTI activist has also sent an RTI requisition to the department of economic affairs (DEA). He has sought information on phase-wise and denomination-wise information in respect of electoral bonds (EBs) sold mentioning the amount in  rupees as follows: (a) sale and EBS start date; (b) sale and EBS end date; (c) redemption of EBS end date; (d) denomination-wise (i) number of EBS sold with (ii) amount in  Rupees; (e) denomination-wise (i) EBS redeemed with amount in  Rupees; (f) denomination-wise & amount-wise, ‘funds  transferred to PMNRF; (g) complete process / steps of how and who (public authority) transfers funds to PMNRF and; (h)  redeemed percentage.”
 
CPIO of the department of economic affairs washed off his hands stating that such information is not available at all. Alleges Batra, ``the CPIO through his letter of 14th June, has provided misleading and false information amounting to saying that information sought is not available all. While most of the information requested was included in table form in the government affidavit filed in Hon’ble SC in in Case WP(C) 880/2017, in the matter of “ADR Vs Union of India & Others. The DEA’s affidavit clearly reveals that SBI has been regularly and phase-wise, sharing information with the government.”
 
Adds Batra, ``It has always been dreaded that the ‘government in power’ would come to know through the SBI - the names of donors of ‘electoral bonds’ to the political parties. This fear is coming closer to certainty after the opaqueness displayed by first the SBI and now the government (department of economic affairs (DEA), ministry of finance) in denying information under the RTI Act.’’ Batra has now filed a second appeal as well as a complaint to the Chief Information Commissioner (CIC), seeking the required information and penalty to the CPIO, DEO for misleading information in his reply. 
 
(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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COMMENTS

P M Ravindran

2 weeks ago

When the information commissioners have themselves subverted the law that they have been tasked, empowered, equipped and paid to enforce, so thoroughly why should the public authorities be worried about the scarecrow called RTI Act? I dare say if Sec 219 of the IPC were to be invoked all the ICs (if there are the usual exceptions they are not known) would be spending the rest of their lifes and beyond behind bars. In fact I had challenged the then VP, Hamid Ansari and the current Prez, Kovind, to get atleast 4 correct decisions of ICs across the country which are correct not only as decisions but having followed the correct procedure.

shadi katyal

2 weeks ago

Why would SBI deny any such information unless it is trying to protect the party which floated such bonds and under what rules. Common man is not aware what it was or is and stands for.
Are these the funds used by BJP to win elections and buy opposition members if so people of the nation should know such in details.
When wa this bill passed to issue such Bonds?

Mumbai Police recovers Rs. 3.55 lakhs from Mumbai Indians for IPL Victory Rally, reveals RTI
Mumbai Indians, the winners of this year’s Indian Premier League (IPL) shelled Rs. 3.55 lakhs for their victory rally’s security as revealed in a RTI query filed by civic RTI activist Anil Galgali. The victory rally which started from Mumbai Indian’s owner Mukesh Ambani’s house Antilia went all the way to Trident hotel in Nariman Point. 
 
Mr. Galgali’s RTI application asked the Mumbai Police details regarding the designations and the number of officers who were present in the victory rally as part of the security arrangements and also the expenses payable by Mumbai Indians to the State Police. 
 
He filed the RTI with both Mumbai Police and the Traffic Police and received a response to his query on 31st May, which stated that the bill generated was to the tune of Rs3.55 lakhs. This bill was later generated in the name of M/s Indiawin Sports Co., a company under the Ambani Group and this amount was later paid in full on 4th June’19. 
 
The Public Information Officer (PIO) of the Mumbai Police in his response to Mr. Galgali also stated that in one shift, two Police Inspectors (PI), one Assistant PI, two PI and hundred constables were deployed to give security for the rally. 
 
Questioning the legitimacy of the rally, Mr. Galglai pointed out how the entire region comes under the silence zone and therefore no rally could be legally permitted there. Questioning the police department’s actions further, Mr. Galgali observed, “The Mumbai Police has still maintained a discreet silence on the issue of permissions sought. It has not provided any reply pertaining to the query, whether permissions were sought by the organisers or not? Also were permissions given by the police department?” 
 
Mr Galgali has filed a similar RTI recently with the Mumbai Police asking for details on the amount owed to them for security coverage during past IPLs and other tournaments. In response to this query, the PIO of Mumbai Police responded that the Mumbai Cricket Association (MCA) owes the Mumbai Police an amount of Rs21.34 crores including pending interest of Rs5.61 crore due for providing security during IPL and other major cricket tourneys till 2018. This also includes an amount of Rs1.48 crore which the MCA owes Mumbai Police for security provided during the 2018 edition of IPL.
 
Pointing out how this is a huge win for the RTI act, Mr. Galgali was quoted saying, “The Public Authorities call us RTI users blackmailers and disturbers, but had I not filed this RTI, would the Mumbai Police have even  generated the bill and recovered the charges for security? This goes on to show just how very important the RTI act is to bring transparency and accountability in the system”
 
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RTI Activists’ battle bears fruit, J&K Bank to implement RTI act, CVC guidelines
In a huge victory for the cause of better disclosure and transparency, the Board of Directors (BoD) of Jammu & Kashmir Bank (J&K) decided to implement the RTI Act and the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) guidelines last Saturday.
 
Calling this a step in the right direction, Chairman of the J&K RTI Foundation Dr. Irfan Banka in his statement shared, “RTI Activists and in fact whole Jammu and Kashmir is happy on the long pending demand towards transparency. We thank and appreciate the role of Governor and especially Chief Secretary in ensuring transparency and accountability in Jammu and Kashmir Bank by playing a key role in declaring JK Bank a public authority which led to the implementation of RTI Law in the Bank”
 
The decision to go ahead with the RTI Act came up during the first board meeting under the chairmanship of it’s current interim Chairman and Managing Director Rajesh Kumar Chibber who has decided to implement the act in it’s letter and spirit.
 
Speaking further on providing assistance to the government, Dr. Irfan Banka said, “Being a grooming institution of the state, we are ready to provide any kind of assistance to the Bank for implementation of RTI Law. Bank has the best source i.e. CSR to implement the RTI law and achieve public trust through transparency. It could be an example for other institutions of the state.”
 
While the RTI act came into existence in the valley in 2009, J&K Bank was still not under the ambit of the act even though the then Chief Information Commissioner G.R. Sofi had delivered a detailed judgement declaring Jammu and Kashmir Bank as a public authority.
 
Mr. Raja Muzaffar Bhat a Jammu based RTI activist has been fighting a relentless battle to bring transparency into the bank’s operations and had been appealing to the Government to bring the bank under the ambit.
 
The interesting thing to note is, when the State Administrative Council had declared J&K Bank as a Public authority, there was an atmosphere of panic and restlessness. Raja Muzaffar Bhat in the Greater Kashmir, a publication based out of Srinagar writes that this stems from the belief that "the management of the bank especially the Board of Directors were of the opinion that RTI would hamper their business, and it would create an unnecessary invasion into the affairs of the bank."
 
While J&K Bank was a private sector bank, on 22 November 2018, the Government-led state Administrative Council (SAC) had approved the proposal for treating Jammu and Kashmir Bank Limited as a Public Sector Undertaking (PSU) and therefore by extension, it was applicable to fall under the RTI Act. However, they continued to defy the act even though currently the State Government owns 59% stake in the bank.
 
Dr. Irfan Banka in his statement did question the Governor of the state over his silence despite the bank being declared a public authority in November last year.
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COMMENTS

GLN Prasad

4 weeks ago

The happiness if any is only short-lived, as it is difficult to get information on depositors as they have to maintain the secrecy of customers accounts as a statutory obligation. When RBI has failed to provide such reports even after CIC decisions, and SC contempt notice, one can evaluate the efficacy of the act against such banks. When there is no sincerity in implementing stipulations whether it is a public authority or not makes no difference. When PIO follows his statutory obligations, why there were lakhs of pending second appeals before various commissions? Yes. It is a success and at least a citizen can demand information as a right.

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