Credit: Reuters/PTI/Illustration by The Wire
New Delhi: The Central Information Commission (CIC) has called it “not legal” that the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) refused to disclose the action taken on a letter from Raghuram Rajan, former governor of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI).
Earlier this month, the CIC had asked the PMO, RBI and Ministry of Finance to explain what action was taken on the letter Rajan sent in 2015. The commission’s order came a week after The Wire reported that the PMO and finance ministry had refused to provide any information about the letter.
In his 2015 letter, the former RBI governor listed high-profile fraud NPA (non-performing asset) cases that required a multi-agency probe.
Despite the CIC’s order, the three respondents did not come forth with the required information during the hearing by the central information commissioner, M. Sridhar Acharyulu on November 16. The CIC recorded that the PMO had contended that since first and second appeals were not filed along with the original RTI application, the direction to provide information was “not maintainable”.
Acharyulu countered that “the Commission cannot agree with this kind of attempt to deny the substantive part of information access by unreasonable procedural interpretations without any legal basis”. Terming the PMO’s response “unfortunate”, he said it has a “moral, constitutional and political duty to tell the citizens of India as to who are and what action was taken against defaulters to recover the huge loans advanced to them by banks, from out of tax payer’s money”.
The CIC then directed the PMO to inform the appellant and the commission about those details, as well as about policy (if any) toward recovery from defaulters, including high-profile ones.
`Legal duty of PMO to furnish information’
Stating that “the RTI Act is a welfare legislation aiming at good governance”, Acharyulu wrote that the PMO should not consider those seeking information as litigants or disputants, and the office as their adversary.
He reasoned that “it is the legal duty of the PMO to furnish the information as per the directive of CIC, because the RTI was formally filed for information from a ministry of Government of India, which is led by PMO”.
Referring to Rajan’s letter, the Acharyulu noted that the CIC had learnt that information about defaulters had been filed with the PMO by the former RBI Governor. Yet, he lamented that “the CPIO of RBI did not provide information obviously because of instructions of the higher authorities, which might include apex policy makers.”
Stating that “the appeal before CIC now is for information about list of defaulters and action against the defaulters, which RBI is bound to give but not giving,” the CIC order also noted that Rajan had stated before a parliamentary committee that he had written a letter to the PMO about the NPA issue. “It is in public domain,” Acharyulu said, adding that the PMO had also not denied not having any such information.
Parliamentary panels urged to ensure RBI adheres to RTI Act
In light of the RBI’s reluctance to respond to the CIC’s directives, the commission said an issue before it was also of “non-compliance of RTI Act by an important institution like RBI”. It therefore recommended that parliamentary committees seek the implementation of the transparency law by the RBI.
Acharyulu thus urged public accounts committee chairman Mallikarjun Kharge, estimates committee chairman Murali Manohar Joshi and finance committee chairman Veerappa Moily to intervene in the matter.
‘Strong need for reforms and changes in RBI’
The commission also pointed out that in all, 11 disclosure orders had been issued by the CIC to the RBI which have not been implemented. This despite the Supreme Court having rejected all contentions of the RBI in the matter. “There is a strong need for reforms and changes in RBI, especially as per the collective intent of the Parliament reflected in Right to Information Act 2005 as far as transparency is concerned,” the CIC ruled.
The CIC also recommended that the public accounts committee consider deliberating these questions in order to offer accountability as intended by the RTI Act in the RBI.
As for the estimates committee, the commission urged it to “consider discussing the issue of RBI’s anti-transparency stand as part of their deliberations under item `Number 44: Performance of Public Sector Banks – Mechanism for Recovery of Bad Debts and Debt Recovery Tribunals (DRTs)’.”
Finally, in the case of the committee on finance, the CIC recommended that it “consider deliberating on this issue of denial of information while discussing its first subject `Impending Reforms relating to Reserve Bank of India (RBI) and Resolution of Non-Performing Assets/Stressed Assets in Banks/Financial Institutions including critical appraisal of implementation of Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code’.”
‘Non-adherence to SC orders would result in perpetuation of financial regime of secrecy’
The CIC also cautioned that if the RBI does not respect the orders of the Supreme Court on the matter of transparency, it would “result in perpetuation of financial regime of secrecy”. This, it cautioned, would “facilitate financial frauds and allow fraudulent rich and influential business persons to flee the country, as witnessed in recent times.”
The commission thus recommended immediate correction and appropriate action against this “RBI declared anti-RTI policy”. It granted the RBI CPIO time till November 26 to comply.-The WIRE