The Central Information Commission has directed the Reserve Bank to make public audit reports of co-operative banks, rejecting the arguments of the Bank that such disclosure could “lead to loss of faith in some banks” and adversely affect economic interests of the State.
The Reserve Bank had sought exemption on two grounds - it could affect economic interests of the state (Section 8(1) (a) of the RTI Act) and information is held in fiduciary capacity (Section 8(1)(e)).
The RBI also relied on a previous decision of the full bench of the Commission which had left it on the banking regulator to decide whether such a disclosure could affect the economic interests of the state.
Hearing the plea of Jayantilal N Mistry of Gujarat who sought the copies of audit reports of co-operative banks, Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi said even if the information comes under the exempted category cited by the RBI, there was a larger public interest in its disclosure.
“The best check on arbitrariness, mistakes and corruption is transparency, which allows thousands of citizens to act as monitors of public interest. There must be transparency as regards such organisations so that citizens can make an informed choice about them,” Mr. Gandhi said.
He said the full bench had also concluded that there was a public interest in disclosure and directed the disclosure before November 30.
Mr. Gandhi also took exception to the full bench’s directive which left the decision on Reserve Bank to disclose such a class of information, as it is the “expert body.”
“The full bench did not give any independent finding that the disclosure of information would affect the economic interests of the state in its decision. This would completely negate the fundamental right to information guaranteed to the citizens under the RTI Act,” Mr. Gandhi said.
He went on to say that the full bench decided to accept the decision of RBI on the disclosure of information.
“The Commission cannot abdicate its responsibilities under the RTI Act to RBI on the ground that the latter is an expert body. The Commission cannot rely solely on the decision of the public authority and must look into the merits of the case itself. It must determine, on its own, whether the denial of information by the PIO was justified as per Sections 8 and 9 of the RTI Act,” Mr. Gandhi said.
He said the decision of the full bench cited by the RBI does not become a “binding precedent” because it has not recorded any comment which shows that it consciously agreed that Section 8 of the RTI Act was applicable in such matters.
Mr. Gandhi said the RBI is a regulatory authority which is responsible for monitoring subordinate banks and institutions.
“Needless to state significant amounts of public funds are kept with such banks and institutions. Therefore, it is only logical that the public has a right to know about the functioning and working of such entities including any lapses in regulatory compliances. Merely because disclosure of such information may adversely affect public confidence in defaulting institutions, cannot be a reason for denial of information under the RTI Act,” he said.