The Central Information Commission (CIC) has issued a show-cause notice to RBI Governor Urjit Patel for “dishonouring” a Supreme Court judgment on disclosure of the wilful defaulters’ list.
The CIC has also asked the Prime Minister’s Office, the Finance Ministry and the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) to make public the letter of former RBI governor Raghuram Rajan on bad loans.
Irked over the denial of information on disclosure of names of wilful defaulters who have taken bank loans of Rs 50 crore and above by the RBI in spite of a Supreme Court order, the CIC has asked Patel to explain why a maximum penalty should not be imposed on him for “dishonouring” the court verdict, which had upheld a decision taken by then information commissioner Shailesh Gandhi, calling for disclosure of names of wilful defaulters.
Patel, speaking at the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) on September 20, had said the guidelines on vigilance, issued by the CVC, were aimed at achieving greater transparency, promoting a culture of honesty and probity in public life and improving the overall vigilance administration in the organisations within its purview, the CIC pointed out.
“The commission feels that there is no match between what RBI governor and deputy governor say and their website regarding their RTI policy, and a great secrecy of vigilance reports and inspection reports is being maintained with impunity, in spite of the Supreme Court confirming the orders of the CIC in the Jayantilal case,” Information Commissioner Sridhar Acharyulu said.
He concluded that it would not serve any purpose to punish the CPIO for this defiance, because he acted under the instructions of the top authorities.
“The commission considers the governor as the deemed PIO responsible for non-disclosure and defiance of Supreme Court orders and CIC orders and directs him to show cause why a maximum penalty should not be imposed on him for these reasons, before November 16,” Acharyulu said.
He rejected the arguments of Santosh Kumar Panigrahy of the RBI that section 22 of the Right to Information (RTI) Act would not override various laws he quoted, prohibiting disclosure of names and details of wilful defaulters and hence, the RBI should be discharged from the obligations of disclosure.
“His contention that unless the above-referred enactments are repealed, the RBI cannot disclose the details of defaulters is also absurd,” Acharyulu said.
He added that another contention of Panigrahy that the pendency of a PIL before the Supreme Court on the issue would prevent him from disclosure was also baseless as he did not present any interim order passed by the Supreme Court preventing the disclosure of names of wilful defaulters or against the proceedings before the CIC.
“These submissions of the RBI show that its legal wing did not bring to the notice of the CPIO that in the RBI vs Jayantilal N Mistry case, a Supreme Court bench consisting of M Y Eqbat and C Nagappan JJ, on December 16, 2015 [Transferred Cases (Civil) Nos. 91 to 101 of 2015], gave a landmark decision, upholding the direction of the CIC to disclose the inspection reports of the RBI and the names of wilful defaulters in many cases, rejecting all the above-referred contentions of the RBI,” Acharyulu said.
The information commissioner said in that case, the counsel for the RBI had raised the same contentions, referring to the same cases referred by Panigrahy, and those were straightaway rejected by the Supreme Court.
“The commission finds no merit in hiding the names of, details and action against wilful defaulters of big bad loans worth hundreds of crores of rupees.
“The RBI shall disclose the bad debt details of defaulters worth more than Rs 1,000 crore at the beginning, of Rs 500 crore or less at a later stage within five days and collect such information from the banks in due course to update their voluntary disclosures from time to time as a practice under section 4(1)(b) of the RTI Act,” he said.
Acharyulu asked the RBI governor to remember, at least once, one of the three lakh farmers who died in the field as he failed to sustain his crop or sell his produce for an appropriate price and hence, could not pay off the debt before defying the transparency law and directions, and discontinue the non-disclosure policy which will seriously harm the economy of the nation.