In a stern order early this week, the central information commission (CIC) has slammed a show-cause notice as to why a penalty should not be imposed on the two public information officers (PIOs) of the Prathma UP Gramin Bank, Moradabad, and also ordered them to provide information on the details sought under Right to Information (RTI) act, on the four fake loan accounts opened on an account-holder’s name.
CIC Suresh Chandra has also asked the Bank to revisit the RTI application and provide information to the RTI applicant as well as to the commission, by the end of this month.
Mr Chandra observed in his order that “The Commission after adverting to the facts and circumstances of the case, hearing both the parties and perusal of records, observed that the respondent (bank) instead of providing the information or claiming exemption permissible under the provisions of RTI Act, refused the information stating the appellant was making repeated RTI applications.”
Mr Chandra further noted in his order that “The objective of RTI Act is to bring transparency and prevent corruption. The respondent (bank) had failed to provide information or at least reveal the truth even before the Commission.”
RTI applicant Sanjay Kumar, an account-holder with the Prathma UP Gramin Bank, Moradabad, was shocked to know that four fake loan accounts were made in his name. He demanded information under RTI on the following loan accounts and requested the CPIO, under RTI, to provide photocopies of vouchers and mortgage deeds of all debits and credits and; if any amount has been transferred to any account in the form of RTGS (real time gross settlement). The loan accounts numbers and loans given are:
The so-called Loan Account No. - *******4138 Muvilag Rs2,00,000) dated 24.08.2015; Loan Account No. - *******1739 Muvilag Rs5,00,000 dated 15.03.2016; Loan Account No. - *******2672 Muvilag Rs1,00,000 dated 24.04.2016; Loan Account No. - *******1035 Muvilag Rs1,50,000).
The CPIO replied to Mr Pathak that he is repeatedly seeking the same information through their office and regional offices, which is against the rules of the RTI Act. The CPIO replied, “Replies have also been sent to you under RTI.” Reminding the applicant of a CIC decision, he qualified that “The citizen has no right to repeat the same or similar or slightly altered information request under RTI Act, 2005, for which he already got a response.” It is also written that such repetition of information requests may be considered as a reasonable ground for refusal under the RTI Act. Hence, information cannot be provided to him.
Mr Pathak not only filed a second appeal but also lodged an FIR (first information report) at the police station. This was another reason why the CPIO denied the information.
The first appellate authority (FAA) upheld the CPIO’s verdict. Mr Pathak filed his second appeal in July 2021. His second appeal was heard after nearly two years—again reminding one of the perpetual problems of pendency at the CICs.
At the hearing, Mr Pathak as well as the CPIO, Prathma UP Gramin Bank, Moradabad attended the hearing through video conference. Mr Pathak argued during the hearing that he had not obtained any loan from the respondent bank; however, he came to know that the four loans were sanctioned in his name. He wanted to know how these loans could be sanctioned in his name and said that he has also filed an FIR and the matter was under investigation with the crime branch. The CPIO tried to defend himself by saying that the applicant’s signature did not match the account-holder’s signature. He also reiterated that the applicant has also lodged an FIR in the police station so the matter is under investigation and, therefore, information cannot be provided to him.
The CIC, after hearing both sides, directed the Bank’s CPIO to provide the information and has questioned why a show-cause notice should not be slammed on the present CPIO and the earlier one.
(Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife. She is also the 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”.