A Right to Information (RTI) appeal against the RBI’s refusal to disclose a list of wilful defaulters has exposed the fault lines within the Central Information Commission.
In a hard-hitting letter written on the eve of his retirement, Information Commissioner Sridhar Acharyulu defended his decision to discuss the case in the media as “an ethical exercise in pursuance of transparency”.
“Information Commissioner’s primary duty is to uphold and implement RTI Act, which was being violated by important public authorities like RBI,” Mr. Acharyulu wrote in response to objections voiced by Chief Information Commissioner R.K. Mathur over his “overstepping” the boundaries of his role.
“Entire Commission should feel embarrassed when its order is not being complied with like this,” Mr. Acharyulu wrote in the letter dated November 19, a copy of which has been seen by The Hindu .
According to the letter, Mr. Mathur told Mr. Acharyulu on November 8 — after the Information Commissioner had issued a show-cause notice directly to the RBI Director — that he had violated unwritten protocol by taking on the case when a substantial portion of the appeal dealt with the RBI, putting fellow Commissioner Sudhir Bhargava (who has been allotted responsibility for RBI-related appeals according to the CIC website) in an embarrassing position.
Mr. Acharyulu responded that he had not chosen the case; it had been routinely issued to him by the registry as it also had questions to the Labour Ministry, which is a subject allotted to himIt was never the practice to split a single appeal with two subjects between two different Commissioners, he asserted.
He also responded to Mr. Mathur’s reported contention that the CIC should speak in one voice, and that Mr. Acharyulu should not have given a different order when a Division Bench of two Commissioners had already given its decision. The bench, Mr. Acharyulu said, had not given any ruling; it had simply adjourned the matter indefinitely to await the final decision of the Supreme Court on a related PIL filed in 2003, even before the RTI Act had come into existence.
Mr. Acharyulu noted that the apex court had already given its order in another related case in 2015, upholding a previous CIC order to the RBI to disclose the data. “CIC should have taken all steps to enforce its orders, including filing of a complaint for contempt of court in such cases…We do not have any legal duty to abet in any manner the concealment of names of wilful defaulters,” he added.
The letter was sent to Mr. Mathur and copied to the other CIC members. When contacted, Mr. Mathur declined to comment on the contents of the letter or the RTI appeal.
Differences within the CIC have come to light in the last few months especially with regard to the government’s proposal to amend the RTI Act, and Mr. Acharyulu’s letter to his fellow CIC members opposing the move.
While Mr. Acharyulu retired from the CIC on Tuesday, Mr. Mathur will also complete his term by the end of the month, along with two other Commissioners. By December 1, there will only be three Commissioners in the 11-member CIC.