Central Information Commissioner Sridhar Acharyulu, who took on the Prime Minister’s Office and the Reserve Bank of India in a case dealing with the non-disclosure of wilful defaulters of major bank loans, warned on his last day hearing RTI appeals that by December, he and three other CICs would retire, leaving the Central Information Commission seriously handicapped.
There have been complaints that the primary responsibility for appeals dealing with the RBI and the PMO is allotted to other Commissioners. Why did you take on this case?
I don’t ask for a particular case. I don’t have a choice. This RTI application came to me because it contained some questions about Ministry of Labour and Employment, which is allotted to me. First two or three questions were about Labour Ministry and rest of them were about RBI. If I know that some information is available with another public body but not being given, it’s my duty to examine. In fact, law demands it.
Why did you hold the RBI Governor himself liable?
Earlier, a similar RTI application was filed. CIC ordered disclosure. RBI challenged it, it was taken to the Supreme Court, which said, “All your objections against non-disclosure of wilful defaulters is not correct, not legal; give the information”. SC said this in 2015 and it was supposed to be implemented by all these institutions.
Then a similar question comes before me. I issued a notice to RBI. They came up with the same objections which are rejected by the Supreme Court. Then I switched on their website and I saw… They gave more than 100 lists in which they will not give information. They declared, we are not going to give information on these points and that includes wilful defaulters list, inspection reports, which Supreme Court ordered them to give.
You tell me, can ordinary PIO do such a big job? Will he dare to declare such a list? Then who will do it? The highest authority of the RBI will do it. So do you think I should punish the ordinary small employee?
We have a provision under the RTI Act to consider another officer as the deemed PIO if he holds information but doesn’t give. Now who is the other officer in the department who is holding the information? RBI Governor. Who is saying I will not give? RBI Governor. When I ask him to explain why are you defying the Supreme Court, RTI and CIC, there’s nothing illegal.
Now you will be retiring before the next hearing on this case…
By December 1, four of us will be out; only three CICs will remain. They will find it very difficult to handle the growing cases. And there will be no Chief, that is the big problem. The subjects handled by seven Commissioners, nobody will handle. If the Chief retires, all the important subjects like President’s, Prime Minister’s Office, Supreme Court will not be heard. If you strengthen the CIC, you strengthen RTI. The RTI Act envisages the appointment of individuals with eminence in different fields: management, science and technology, media, social service, administration, governance. But 90% of information commissioners, in the Centre and states, are former government officers. Currently, in the CIC, I am the only one who is not from administration. I don’t come with any baggage of administrative experience. Maybe I come with the baggage of a critical outlook. Let that also be there.