The Supreme Court Friday directed the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) to disclose information pertaining to its annual inspection report of banks under the Right to Information (RTI) Act unless they are exempted under law.
A bench headed by Justice L Nageswara Rao also directed the federal bank to review its policy to disclose information relating to banks under RTI, saying “it is duty bound under the law”.
The bench, which did not go ahead with contempt proceedings against the RBI, made it clear that it was giving a last opportunity to it to comply with provisions of the transparency law.
The bench said it would have taken a serious view to the refusal of the RBI to part with information under RTI.
“Any further violation shall be viewed seriously,” the bench said.
In January this year, the top court had issued contempt notice to RBI for not disclosing annual inspection report of banks under RTI.
Earlier, the apex court and the Central Information Commission, both had held that the RBI cannot deny information to an information seeker under the transparency law unless the material is exempted from disclosure under the law.
The RBI, in its defence, had said that it cannot disclose information as the annual inspection report of the bank contained “fiduciary” information as defined under the transparency law.
The bench was hearing a contempt petition filed by RTI activist S C Agrawal against the RBI.
Agrawal had sought complete information including related documents from RBI on imposition of fines on some banks for violating rules.
He had also sought the list of banks and the default for which show cause notices was issued to them before the fine was imposed.
Despite the apex court’s judgement for disclosure of such information, the RBI had issued a “Disclosure Policy” under which it has listed certain information as being exempted from being disclosed of the RTI Act.
“It is to be noted that these specific information are similar to what were held not to be exempted by the Supreme Court,” claimed the plea.
The RBI had refused to disclose such information on the grounds of economic interest and holding such information in fiduciary relationship with these individual banks.
“Such reason is in direct contempt with this court’s judgment. The information titles which are in contempt belong to Department of Banking Regulation, Banking Supervision, Cooperative Banking Regulation/Department of Cooperative Banking Supervision and Consumer Education and Protection Department.
“These exempted information under the policy were held to be not exempted by the Supreme Court. Thus, this exemption leads to contempt of this court’s order,” the plea has said.
The Supreme Court had in 2015 held that RBI should take rigid action against those banks and financial institutions which have been indulging in “disreputable business practices” and said it cannot withhold information on defaulters and other issues covered under the RTI Act.
It had further clarified that RBI cannot withhold information under the “guise” of confidence or trust with financial institutions and is accountable to provide information sought by general public.