Wednesday, 3 February 2016

RBI under RTI

The subject matter of the case is related to the Right to Information Act, 2005 (hereinafter ‘2005 Act’). It was established to provide a timely response to the citizen’s requests for government information. This empowers the citizens, promote transparency and accountability in the working of the Government, contain corruption, and make our democracy work for the people in real sense. This case deals with section 8 of 2005 Act which provides for exemption from disclosure of information.  

Brief Facts:

As per the facts of the case the statutory inspection of Makarpura Industrial Estate Cooperative Bank Ltd. was conducted by RBI (hereinafter ‘Petitioner’) under the Banking Regulation Act, 1949. Thereafter, the Respondent sought some information from the CPIO of Petitioner under the Act of 2005. CPIO replied to the queries of Respondent. Being unsatisfied with this the Respondent filed an appeal, which was dismissed by the First Appellate Authority. Being aggrieved by this, another appeal was filed by the Respondent where the CIC (Central Information Commissioner) asked the Petitioner to provide with the necessary information. Thereafter, the Petitioner moved to Delhi High Court challenging the CCI decision. After seeing the several other petitions similar to this case the Petitioner asked to transfer the case to Supreme Court which was allowed by the Delhi High Court. The Hon’ble Supreme Court clubbed this case with several other similar cases and dispose of them together.         

Issue for Consideration:

1.      Whether all the information sought for under the Right to Information Act, 2005 can be denied by the Reserve Bank of India and other Banks to the public at large on the ground of economic interest, commercial confidence, and fiduciary relationship with other Bank on the one hand and the public interest on the other?
2.      If the answer to above question is in negative, then up to what extent the information can be provided under the 2005 Act?

Decision of Court:

The Hon’ble Court after going through the definition of ‘fiduciary relationship’ from several dictionaries and case laws held that the Petitioner does not place itself in a fiduciary relationship with the financial institutions because, the reports of the inspections, statements of the bank, information related to the business obtained by the Petitioner are not under the pretext of confidence or trust. In this case neither the Petitioner nor the Banks act in the interest of each other.

Petitioner is supposed to uphold public interest and not the interest of individual banks. Petitioner is clearly not in any fiduciary relationship with any bank. Petitioner has no legal duty to maximize the benefit of any public sector or private sector bank, and thus there is no relationship of ‘trust’ between them. Petitioner has a statutory duty to uphold the interest of the public at large, the depositors, the country’s economy and the banking sector. Thus, Petitioner ought to act with transparency and not hide information that might embarrass individual banks. It is duty bound to comply with the provisions of the RTI Act and disclose the information sought by the Respondents.

The Hon’ble Court further held that the baseless and unsubstantiated argument of the Petitioner that the disclosure would hurt the economic interest of the country is totally misconceived.

The Court further held that the exemption contained in Section 8(1)(e) applies to exceptional cases and only with regard to certain pieces of information, for which disclosure is unwarranted or undesirable. If information is available with a regulatory agency not in fiduciary relationship, there is no reason to withhold the disclosure of the same.  The RTI Act under Section 2(f) clearly provides that the inspection reports, documents etc. fall under the purview of “Information” which is obtained by the public authority (Petitioner) from a private body. Even if we were to consider that Petitioner and the Financial Institutions shared a “Fiduciary Relationship”, Section 2(f) would still make the information shared between them to be accessible by the public. However, in the instant case the Petitioner is accountable and as such it has to provide information to the information seekers under Section 10(1) of the RTI Act.

Lastly the Court said that, not all the information that the Government generates will or shall be given out to the public. And when it comes to national economic interest, disclosure of information about currency or exchange rates, interest rates, taxes, the regulation or supervision of banking, insurance and other financial institutions, proposals for expenditure or borrowing and foreign investment could in some cases harm the national economy, particularly if released prematurely. However, lower level economic and financial information, like contracts and departmental budgets should not be withheld under this exemption.   

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