As cases of denial of information under the Right to Information Act pile up, the Reserve Bank of India approached various courts as many as nine times against the Central Information Commission’s (CIC) orders directing it to provide information. Seven of these cases are now pending in the Delhi High Court while two are in the Bombay High Court.
Not only has the RBI preferred litigation against providing information, the central bank earlier this year also refused to give information on expenses it has incurred on such litigation against CIC orders.
Besides these nine cases, there are three others cases in which the RBI sought to become a petitioner to block information against the CIC’s decisions. In these cases, National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD) and ICICI Bank are currently petitioners. The RBI wants to defend them by becoming a petitioner too.
While these are extreme cases where applicants are fighting RBI in court order to get information, several other applicants simply get disheartened by the bank’s refusal and do not pursue it. Asked about the bank’s repeated rejections of RTI applications, RBI’s official spokesperson said, “The RBI approached the court of law as it was aggrieved by the CIC’s decisions.”
A common reason cited by the RBI to refuse information is “fiduciary capacity”, an exemption clause in the RTI Act.
Activist SS Vohra who sought copies of advisory notes issued by RBI to ICICI Bank and other nine banks says this clause was clearly misused in his case. The advisory notes are issued if bank/s have not complied with RBI guidelines/directives/ statutory provisions. After years of appeals against the refusal to give information, the CIC on December 6, 2010 gave an order in Vohra’s favour. The judgment directed the central public information officer (CPIO), RBI, to provide the appellant photocopies of the advisory notes issued by RBI to ICICI Bank during the preceding two years for contravention of the Foreign Exchange Management Act and the Prevention of Money Laundering Act. The CIC ordered that information be given within 10 working days.
According to records in RBI’s outward register, the advisory notes were sent to Vohra’s Chembur address on December 24, 2010, about 18 days after the CIC order. However, the applicant never received the information. Incredibly, when Vohra tried to find out why, RBI replied that ICICI bank had expressed reservations to the information being provided. RBI’s note-sheets accessed by DNA say, “The ICICI Bank officials expressed anxiety about the serious repercussions it may have because they believe that the letters and contents may be selectively used to publicize the issue in press…” So, going against the CIC’s order, the RBI withdrew the information from the post office.
ICICI Bank later went to court. The case is still on.
This correspondent’s RTI application was similarly rejected too. Despite several requests and long correspondence, an application seeking inspection of RTI applications received by RBI was eventually denied on the grounds of “fiduciary capacity”.
There are several complaints about RBI denying simple information too.
“I have filed more than 20 RTIs (with RBI) but in none of them have I got a satisfactory reply. Even if I get a favourable order from the commission, RBI doesn’t give proper information,” says Girish Mittal, a Mumbai-based RTI activist and engineer.
The RBI spokesperson said all complaints that RBI rejects genuine applications are baseless. “RBI claims exemption in accordance with law and in economic interest with respect to information held by it in fiduciary capacity,” the spokesperson said.