Supreme Court directs RBI to disclose information on bank inspection report under RTI

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.

Fitness certificate to vehicle without independent test illegal: Bombay High Court

The Bombay High Court today said the Maharashtra government’s practice of issuing fitness certificates to private vehicles without conducting an independent test was illegal and in breach of its previous orders.

Therefore, the state government must take a decision on amending its rules and circulars on the issue and inform the court of its decision, a bench of justices A S Oka and R I Chagla said.

The bench was hearing a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by Shrikant Karve, a Right to Information (RTI) activist from Pune.

Karve alleged that officials at various regional transport offices (RTOs) across the state had been granting fake fitness certificates, or registration certificates, to private as well as transport vehicles without subjecting the vehicles to mandatory fitness tests first.

On a previous hearing, another bench led by Justice Oka had held that since under the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988, the registration of vehicles is treated as valid only if it had a valid certificate of fitness, such vehicles that did not have a fitness certificate must be deemed as unregistered, and thus, not permitted to be driven at all.

However, the court was informed recently that the Maharashtra government had been granting registration to new vehicles without the fitness certificate.

The state’s counsel, Abhinandan Vagyani, had told the court that this was being done since all new vehicles were already checked for fitness by the manufacturers before delivery.

The bench, however, held today that the state’s stand was contrary to provisions of the law, and hence, illegal.

A fitness certificate is an official document certifying that the holder’s vehicle is fit for being driven in public places.

As per the Motor Vehicles Act, a vehicle must have a fitness certificate issued by the manufacturer, and also, another fitness certificate issued by the state RTO authorities after the inspection of its condition, its pollution certificate, tax, insurance, and other such details.

“Since under the Act, the registration of vehicle is treated as valid only if it has valid certificate of fitness from the manufacturer and the inspecting authority, the state’s stand that a vehicle can be granted registration merely on the basis of the date of its manufacture is illegal,” the high court said.

“It (the state’s stand) is also in breach of the law and the previous orders of this court,” it further said.

The bench held that in granting new registration certificates without proper fitness certificates and merely on the basis of the manufacturers’ certificates, the state was harming the interest of several people.

The court has now directed the state to take a decision on amending its current practice in view of its observations, by April 25 this year.

Bill to amend RTI Act likely in parliament Monday

The government is Monday likely to introduce in the Lok Sabha a bill to amend the Right to Information (RTI) Act to keep political parties out of its ambit, informed sources said.
The issue has been in the limelight after a June 3 Central Information Commission (CIC) order stated that six national political parties would be brought under the RTI Act as they were public authorities, receiving significant funding from the government.

The government will have no difficulty in getting the bill passed as most parties are against the CIC order, the sources said.

The union cabinet approved the amendments Aug 2.

Defending the amendments, Law Minister Kapil Sibal had then said no political party could function if the CIC order was implemented.

“This (order) will strike at the root of the political system. People will seek all sorts of details from political parties including their process of consultation and decision-making. Nowhere in the world does this happen,” he said.

 “The political parties are unanimous against the CIC order. Parties will not be able to function if this is allowed,” he added.

The law minister gave a long list of points to indicate that political parties “did not function under a veil of secrecy” and were accountable.

“We get elected by the people. We have to reveal whatever donations we receive to the Election Commission. It is not as if donations to parties are unaccounted for,” said Sibal.

Donations received by political parties beyond Rs.20,000 have to be declared to the income tax department, the minister pointed out.

“This can also be made public. It is not as if the political parties operate under a veil of secrecy,” he said.
“We give an account of assets and liabilities to the Election Commission and also give an account of our expenses, there is transparency. Political parties are not companies or trusts. It’s a voluntary association of persons,” he said.
(Source: IANS )

PM petitioned against amendments to RTI Act

Activists have launched an online petition addressed to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh against the amendment likely to be made to the Right to Information (RTI) Act in the upcoming parliament session.

“We are informed that the government is thinking of amending the RTI Act to negate the Central Information Commission order that the political parties are public authorities under the act,” said Bharat Dorgra, coordinator of the National Campaign for People’s Right to Information (NCPRI), in a statement Sunday.

“It is likely that these amendments would seek to curtail various other entitlements that have now established the ability of the RTI to fight corruption and the arbitrary use of power by the establishment. Therefore, this petition has been initiated,” Dogra added.

Since the implementation of the RTI Act in 2005, activists have resisted several attempts by the establishment to curtail transparency and accountability, he said.

“When amendments were proposed to the RTI Act in 2009, the government had assured parliament that non-governmental organisations (NGO) and social activists will be consulted on the amendments. We, therefore, expect the government to hold wide ranging public discussions before they even think of amending the law,” said Sailesh Gandhi, an RTIactivist.

The petition, which has 250 signatures so far, has been initiated by NCPRI on the website change.org.

(Source: IANS)

Former SC Judge Katju to launch NGO for free legal aid

The retired Supreme Court judge Markandey Katju,  is going to launch an NGO to offer justice to poor and helpless people.

Katju, who had earlier sought pardon for Bollywood actor Sanjay Dutt and Zaibunissa Kazi, convicts in the 1993 Mumbai serial blasts case is the the retired judge of Supreme Court of India.

The NGO, ‘The Court of Last Resort’, will be headquartered in New Delhi, and have branches in all the states of the country.

Justice Katju explained on his blog, ‘It has been felt for quite some time that injustice is being done to a large number of people who have been languishing in jail either as undertrials whose cases have not been heard for several years, or who have unjustly remained incarcerated because the police have fabricated evidence against them, or for want of proper legal assistance or who have had to spend many years in jail and (were) ultimately found innocent by the court.’

The NGO will use Right to Information (RTI) and other means to obtain details of undertrials and convicts incarcerated in jails. Depending on the legal resources necessary, the NGO would then intervene and seek bail for those languishing wrongly in jails, or facing delayed trial.

In cases deserving of pardon, the NGO will seek suspension or reduction of sentences for the concerned undertrials by knocking on the doors of the President or respective state Governors.

During his visit to Mumbai two days ago, Justice Katju held meetings with top criminal lawyer Majeed Memon, activist-filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt, and social crusaders to give shape to the NGO, based on Erle Stanley Gardner’s famous ‘The Court of Last Resort’, a popular TV series of the 1950s in the US that dealt with cases of miscarriages of justice of helpless undertrials in US prisons in the 1940s.

Lawyer Memon, who has fought several cases of accused in the 1993 serial bomb blasts and other similar cases, said that Katju would be the chief patron and noted counsel Fali S Nariman would be chairman of the NGO.

Plea on political donations to be heard Sep 26

The chief information commissioner (CIC) will Sep 26 hear a plea asking political parties to give out information on donations received by them, said NGO Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) Saturday.

The ADR approached the CIC in March 2011 as save for the Communist Party of India (CPI), no other national political party had provided information on its largest donors and the manner of such donations, said a release from the NGO.

“All national political parties, except for the CPI, declined to give the information on their largest donors,” said ADR.

It said while the CPI provided information about their largest donors, their addresses and the mode of payment of these donations other political parties either didn’t reply or simply said they did not come under the right to information (RTI), said the NGO.

The CPI said it was a public authority as the organisation was substantially financed directly or indirectly by government funds.

The Indian National Congress, however, returned the RTI letter saying that it did not come under the RTI, said the ADR.

While the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party did not respond to the RTI application, the Nationalist Congress Party said it didn’t have enough manpower to provide the information.

The Communist Party of India-Marxist also returned the RTI application, said ADR.

The NGO said leaders of all political parties maintained that they were committed to transparency and probity in their functioning.

“These replies bring to the fore the biggest farce that our democracy is plagued with – the opaque functioning of political parties with no space for engagement with the citizens and no willingness to open themselves to public scrutiny,” said ADR.

Gujarat riots: CIC order reversed to reveal communication between PM, Prez

The Delhi High Court today set aside a Central Information Commission’s(CIC)  order to the Centre to reveal to it the communication between erstwhile Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and President K R Narayanan over the 2002 Gujarat riots.

 Justice Anil Kumar gave the order, allowing the Centre’s appeal against the CIC’s directions.

 In the facts and circumstances, the order of the CIC of August 8, 2006 is liable to be set aside and the CIC cannot direct the petitioner (Centre) to produce the correspondence between the President and the Prime Minister.

 “Since the CIC is not entitled to peruse the correspondence between the President and the Prime Minister, as it is be barred under Article 74(2) of the Constitution of India, the application of the petitioner seeking such an information will also be not maintainable,” said the judge.

 Article 74(2) of the Constitution bars the disclosure of the advice given by the Council of Ministers to the President.

 While setting aside the order of the full bench of the CIC, Justice Kumar, who is demitting office today, also dismissed RTI applicant C Ramesh’s plea saying he was not “entitled” to the communications exchanged between the then President and Prime Minister over the Gujarat riots.

 Ramesh’s request for making public the communications under the Right to Information (RTI) Act had been denied by the Central Public Information Officer and his appeal against the denial was also dismissed, subsequent to which he had moved the apex transparency panel CIC.

 A full bench of the CIC on August 8, 2006 had called for the correspondences, sought by Ramesh, to examine whether their disclosure would serve or harm the public interest, after which it would issue appropriate orders.

 The Centre had approached the Delhi High Court against the CIC order claiming that such disclosures would affect the sovereignty and integrity of the country.

Court to hear Swamy’s plea on dues from IIT-Delhi

Dismissing a plea of the Indian Institute of Technology-Delhi, a court has accepted a plea of Janata Party chief Subramanian Swamy seeking recovery of his dues earned while serving there as an assistant professor 1972-1991.

Additional District Judge Neelam Singh dismissed the plea of IIT-D seeking dismissal of Swamy’s civil suit on the ground that his plea was time-barred and beyond the jurisdiction of the court.

“Keeping in view the discussion, application of defendant (Director, IIT-Delhi) is hereby dismissed. The (Swamy’s) suit will progress forward from the stage immediately prior to the passing of this order,” the judge in the order Friday.

The court listed the matter for cross examination of Swamy’s witnesses Apr 27.

Swamy had filed the suit for recovery of his salary and allowances in revised grade from December 1972 till May 1991 along with interest at 18 percent with effect from February 1991 till the date of payment and and his gratuity and pension.

He had told court that he came to know about his dues only in 2009 after filing RTI (Right to Information) applications.

The IIT-D, while opposing Swamy’s plea, has said that he has sought recovery of Rs.19.50 lakh along with interest and his total claim was Rs.70.20 lakh which is beyond the pecuniary jurisdiction of the court.

Dismissing the director’s plea, the court said that at this stage, it will be immature to hold that the suit of Swamy is without any cause of action.

 

 

Tackling corruption top of government agenda: Prime Minister

Institution of a “strong and effective” Lokpal, reducing discretionary powers of public authorities and ensuring transparency in government contracts were on top of his government’s agenda, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said Friday. He also stressed that the nation must “seize this moment” to bring in far-reaching changes in fighting corruption.

 

“We are on the cusp of far reaching changes in fighting corruption. The agitation for the establishment of a Lokpal has brought the issue of cleaning up of public life right at the top of the agenda of national priorities,” Manmohan Singh said in one of his strongest statements to date on the issue that has been bedevelling the nation.

 

“The government welcomes inputs from civil society and NGOs on how to fight corruption,” he said at the biennial conference of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and state anti-corruption bureaus here.

 

 

 

Facing criticism from civil society for suggesting earlier that the Right to Information (RTI) needs review, Manmohan Singh said: “Public authorities should voluntarily place as much information as is possible in the public domain to inform people.”

“RTI is a potent tool to ensure transparency and accountability in public life,” he said.

With the issue of corruption gaining centrestage and becoming a rallying point for people all over, the prime minister said the task of ensuring transparency in public life and punishing the corrupt “had acquired an urgency as never before”.

“We must as a nation seize this moment”.

Talking about the measures to check corruption, the prime minister said the government would bring a bill in the winter session of parliament to ensure transparency in government procurement contracts (running into thousands of crore of rupees).

He also said the government was considering changes in the law to make private sector bribery punishable.

According to the prime minister, India’s ratification of the United Nations Convention Against Corruption June 2011 would strengthen the government’s anti-corruption efforts and facilitate international cooperation in trans-border cases of corruption.

He said to meet the requirements of the convention, the government had introduced a bill to make bribery by foreign public officials an offence.

Besides a bill to provide protection to whistleblowers, the Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill has also been introduced in parliament, he said.

Expressing hope for “a strong and effective Lokpal in the coming months”, the prime minister said “the CBI will continue to play a very important role irrespective of the shape of the Lokpal”.

Team Anna has demanded that the anti-corruption wing of the CBI be put under the Lokpal.

The prime minister said to reduce opportunities for corrupt practices, a group of ministers (GoM) is working on ways and means to minimise discretionary powers of public authorities.

The GoM is also looking at the issue of a public procurement law to minimize irregularities in the award of government contracts worth thousands of crores of rupees every year, he said.

 

Agreeing that the debate over the possible ways to curb corruption and improve the processes of governance has intensified, Manmohan Singh said: “I believe the churning over this issue that our society and our polity are witnessing today, marked by sharp differences of opinions and ardent advocacy of particular causes, is good for the country.”

 

“There is a need for speedy and thorough investigation into allegations of such wrongdoing, followed by expeditious prosecution to bring the guilty to book,” he said

 

 

Imran Khan files suit against drinking age

Actor Imran Khan on Wednesday filed a public suit in the Mumbai High Court against raising the age limit for drinking to 25 in Maharashtra.

“After the huge success of ‘Delhi Belly’ and ‘My Brother Ki Dulhan’, Imran waited for few days before he filed the PIL (public interest litigation),” said his spokesperson.

The delay in filing the suit was also due to uncertainty on his eligibility to take up such proceedings as he has US citizenship, but a queries under the Right to Information (RTI) Act has confirmed that he can go ahead with it, revealed the spokesperson.

“The delay was because the law had variations and he had to file several RTIs to get the correct picture. The RTI response came on Aug 16 and he did wait for ‘My Brother Ki Dulhan’ to release,” said the spokesperson.