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Banks' inspection reports to come under RTI: Central Information Commission

LUCKNOW: In a significant order passed by the Central Information Commission, inspection reports of banks can be disclosed under the RTI Act. And, the Reserve Bank of India cannot deny disclosing the report stating that it can have ill-effects on the economy.

The CIC's order came in a case pertaining to Kanpur-based United Mercantile Cooperative Bank Ltd. in its order, the CIC stated that the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) should disclose the audit report of the bank, because citizens have the right to know and not disclosing the report is "against the basic tenets of democracy and transparency".

It was in July 2011 that one of the share-holders of the said cooperative bank, Ashwini Dixit, had sought the copies of the annual audit of the bank conducted by RBI. The bank had allegedly committed a fraud and the local newspapers had widely reported the matter. "The bank has not paid me even a single penny as dividend from 1997 to 2008," said Dixit. He had filed an RTI application with both the Urban Cooperative department and RBI. "I only wanted to know if the non-performing assets of the bank were going up every year, and what was RBI doing to curb that," said Dixit.

While, the cooperative department has remained mum all along, despite seven appeals being filed in the case, RBI has provided only partial information. "I have filed complaints in the state information commission also, but none of them have come up for hearing, till now," he said. Meanwhile, CIC, on March 12, had asked RBI to provide the information to the appellant.

The information was sought about scams/economic inconsistencies of United Mercantile Cooperative Bank Ltd. along with the daily progress report. RBI denied the information saying it is exempted from disclosure under section 8(1)(a) of the RTI Act. Section 8(1)(a) of the RTI Act exempts, "information, disclosure of which would prejudicially affect the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security, strategic, scientific or economic interests of the state, relation with foreign state or lead to incitement of an offence."

RBI was of the opinion that disclosing the observations of the report will affect other institutions also, which might have business relations with the said bank. This might also dilute public confidence in banking system. However, CIC said it is unable to understand how disclosing information about action taken by RBI against scams/inconsistencies of the said bank, along with the daily progress reports, will affect the economic interests of the nation or its security and sovereignty.

CIC also did not buy the argument by RBI that disclosure of inspection reports and the information submitted to RBI or collected by RBI would be detrimental to the interest of depositors, public and banking policies. And, it is not allowed under the Banking Regulation Act, 1949. CIC, in accordance with the section 22 of the RTI Act, however, held that provisions of RTI Act will override the provisions of the Banking Regulation Act, as regards furnishing the information.

RBI said that it cannot share the information as it could "adversely affect public interest and compromise financial sector stability". It might bring out the 'weakness in the financial institutions, systems and management of inspected entities'. The RBI further contended that 'disclosure can erode public confidence not only in the inspected entity but in the banking sector as well.'

To which the commission said, "It appears that RBI is the best judge to decide what citizens should know." It further observed, "It follows that if RBI made mistakes, or there was corruption, citizens should suffer. This appears to go against the basic tenets of democracy and transparency." However, RBI, instead of providing the information has now moved court in the matter, said Dixit.

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