Severely admonishing the RBI and the PMO, the Central Information Commission has again directed them to disclose the list of wilful defaulters and Raghuram Rajan's letter on bad loans.
In an exhaustive 66-page order, the panel pulled up the Prime Minister's Office for not complying with its directive to disclose the letter from former RBI Governor Rajan on bad loans.
Information Commissioner Sridhar Acharyulu said, "If there is any objection based on any exception, the PMO should have pleaded such provision and justify their denial."
He said the PMO refused to comply with the direction of disclosure of action on Rajan's letter on "grounds which are not legal, which is unfortunate".
Acharyulu was hearing the plea of one Sandeep Singh who had sought details of bank loan defaulters.
The commission had earlier issued a show cause notice to RBI Governor Urijit Patel for "dishonouring" a Supreme Court judgment and CIC directive on disclosure of the list of wilful defaulters.
The PMO has a "moral, constitutional and political duty" to tell the citizens of India as to who are the defaulters and what action has been taken to recover the huge loans advanced to them by banks, from out of taxpayer's money, he said.
The commissioner said several categories of information were declared by the RBI as not disclosable as part of their 'disclosure policy' and the RBI calls the exceptional clauses under the RTI Act as 'enabling' provisions.
"It is against the RTI Act, the collective intention of Parliament, affront to democracy, reflecting disrespect to the Supreme Court's directions in RBI v Jayantilal N Mistry case. The RBI has a strong legal team with experienced legal experts and meritorious graduates from National Law Schools, yet has audacity to openly defy RTI Act, CIC directions and judgment of the Supreme Court," he said.
He said as per law, in each RTI request, the CPIO and First Appealing Authorty (FAA) of the RBI need to justify the denial under exceptions prescribed under sections 8 and 9 of the RTI Act.
"But any public authority cannot declare that it will never give such information as declared by the RBI. Exceptional provisions under the RTI Act cannot straight away enable a public authority to deny in advance," he said.
Acharyulu said in spite of the Supreme Court's direction that Section 22 of the RTI Act will override the RBI Act and other Acts, the RBI again quoted those Acts and declared that it would not give information.
"The RBI has totally ignored the provisions of the RTI Act," he said.
This non-disclosure in the name of 'disclosure' policy is also in contradiction of various office memorandum and guidelines issued by the Department of Personnel and Training under the RTI Act, he said.
"If the RBI does not respect the SC orders and denies the citizens right to information, it will result in perpetuation of financial regime of secrecy that is potential enough to facilitate financial frauds and allow fraudulent rich and influential business persons to flee the country, as witnessed in recent times," Acharyulu said.
He again directed the PMO to disclose the names of the defaulters, action taken for recovery of loans in response to Rajan's letter and the policy, if any, about recovery from defaulters including high-profile ones.
Acharyulu also urged parliamentary committees such as Public Accounts Committee, Committee on Finance and Committee on Estimates to deliberate the issues raised in this case as they are also seized of such matters.
"The commission directs the office of this CIC to present the copy of this order to concerned officers of Parliament who are responsible for placing such papers before respective committees within one week from the date of issue of this order," he said.
He rejected the submission of the representative from the PMO who had informed the CIC that the RTI application in this particular case had been filed by the applicant with the Directorate General of Employment and Training (DGEAT) and no copy of the said RTI was received in the PMO from either the applicant or on transfer from any other public authority.
Acharyulu said, "The PMO contended that as the original RTI application, first and second appeals were not filed with the PMO, the direction to provide information was not maintainable and hence the compliance question does not arise."
"The commission cannot agree with this kind of attempt to deny the substantive part of information access by unreasonable procedural interpretations without any legal basis. There is no provision in the RTI Act that prevents the Information Commission from directing any public authority to provide information if that is possibly available with them," he said.
He said information pertaining the identities of loan defaulters and action taken against them is an issue of larger public interest.
"The stand taken by the PMO in this case will not serve any public interest, and compel the citizen to start his effort ab initio, by filing an RTI request with PMO, treating as a separate unconnected public authority and reach the ultimate level at the CIC or up to the Supreme Court, if the government prefers to litigate with the citizen and ultimately it has to give that information.
"This was not the intention of Parliament in passing the RTI Act, 2005 that aimed at creating a practical regime and not procedural tangles to delay and deny the access to public information," he said.