Among the many government departments trying to subvert the sunshine Right to Information law by denying information on frivolous grounds, market watchdog Securities Exchange Board of India (Sebi) appears to be at the forefront of citing bizarre reasons for denial.
Replying to an application filed by DNA in January 2010, Sebi said it could not furnish copies of board meetings’ minutes because photocopying them would damage the original records. “If there are multiple requests, the original minutes will need to be taken out repeatedly for photocopying which may endanger the safety and preservation of records,” said the response.
There are also complaints of Sebi providing misleading information. Early this year, Sebi rejected an application seeking copies of correspondence between Sebi and a listed tyre manufacturing company, denying that such records exist. But when the applicant, in his appeal, produced copies of some of this correspondence, the appellate authority was forced to pass an order in the applicant’s favour.
Sebi also often directs applicants to refer to websites of various departments concerned. Once information is published online, it is not held by Sebi any longer and thus ceases to be information accessible under the RTI Act, said one order passed by the appellate authority of Sebi. This is contravention of several CIC orders stating that information be provided in the form it is sought, given that a large percentage of Indians cannot access a computer.
Sebi official G Ramar who is charge of RTI queries in the organisation, said that once Sebi gives information to another public authority it becomes a public document and it is the latter agency’s responsibility to upload the same on a website. “We will not give any more information. If the applicant wants, he can appeal or approach the commission.”
Sebi also routinely prohibits information applicants from attending hearings. Data from the last two years shows that over 60 per cent of first appeals filed with Sebi were rejected. “We don’t even know if there was ever any hearing held, since there is no record to suggest it,” said C J Karira, an information activist based in Hyderabad.
Also, despite several CIC orders stating that litigation underway on any issue cannot be a ground for denying information, Sebi continues to reject applications stating that the information sought pertains to a matter that is sub judice.
The market regulator even denied information to former Rajya Sabha MP Shyam Benegal sought by him on the floor of Parliament, saying the information was “sensitive.” SEBI “delayed a simple matter by more than two years… this amounts to arbitrary and capricious behaviour on their part,” said Benegal in a letter to the then finance minister Pranab Mukherjee. In fact, Benegal filed an application under RTI to know which officials were responsible for denying him information.
The latest annual report of the market watchdog says: “Sebi has been implementing the RTI Act in its true spirit since its enactment in the year 2005.” Since its formation, Sebi always believes in adequate disclosure of information in the interest of the securities market and the investor, it added.