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.

Explore use of advanced technology to give RTI replies to differently-able’ says SC

NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court directed the Centre as well as the stste to explore the use of advanced technology in providing information under the Right to Information (RTI) Act  to differently-abled persons. A bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud said such people should have a functional-facility to receive the information as permissible under the Act.

Observing that information makes an individual “empowered”, the top court said the right to acquire and disseminate information has been regarded as an intrinsic component of freedom of speech and expression. “They should not be deprived of the benefit of such a utility,” the court said.

On a writ petition filed by Aseer Jamal, the bench said, We think it appropriate to ask the authorities to explore any kind of advanced technology that has developed in the meantime so that other methods can be introduced,” the bench said.

Attorney General K K Venugopal, however, said that according to the provision, it was obligatory on the part of the central public information as it prepares a reply in the printed format and forwards it to the National Institute for the Visually Handicapped where it is converted to Braille.  He said that Audio files were also being prepared.

In view of the submission, the top court said that if any representation was made of further difficulties the same shall be dealt not only with sympathy but also with concern and empathy.

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.

Allahabad HC quashes prev SP govt’s order exempting Lokayukta from RTI

Allahabad HC quashes prev SP govt's order exempting Lokayukta from RTI
Allahabad HC quashes prev SP govt’s order exempting Lokayukta from RTI

The Allahabad High Court has ruled that the Lokayukta is within the purview of the Right to Information Act, quashing a 2012 notification that kept the anti-corruption ombudsmen out of the transparency law’s ambit.

Rejecting the plea of the government counsel that the notification was just and lawful, the Lucknow bench of the high court struck it down holding that it was beyond the authority of the state and was issued in an illegal manner.

The notification was issued on August 3, 2012 by the then Samajwadi Party Government.

The bench comprising justices Sudhir Agrawal and Virendra Kumar II passed the order on Thursday on a writ petition by social activist Nutan Thakur.

The bench was concerned that Lokayukta agency was a forum for complaints against bureaucrats and hence information seekers may do good by bringing the information to public regarding the status of inquiries about such alleged wrong doers.

It advocated that the state should make laws for forfeiture of properties collected by wrong doings.

The petitioner had challenged the notification contending that exclusion of Lokayukta agency in exercise of power under Section 24 of the RTI Act was illegal and arbitrary as Lokayukta agency was not an intelligence or security organisation under the provision.

Allowing the petition, the bench said that after going through the entire Uttar Pradesh Lokayukta and Up-Lokayuktas Act 1975, it did not find that Lokayukta agency was an intelligence or security organisation or institution.

“Therefore, in our view notification of August 3, 2012 is an unlawful and illegal exercise on the part of State Government, hence we strike it down as illegal and beyond the authority of ‘State’ as also being outside the purview of Section 24(4) of RTI Act 2005,” observed the bench.

Section 24(4) of the RTI Act provides that nothing contained in the RTI Act shall apply to intelligence and security organisation as that government may specify from time to time by notification in the official gazette. However, cases related to corruption and human rights violation are liable for disclosure.

( Source – PTI )

Seeking bank employees’ personal info exempted under RTI: SC

The Supreme Court has held that seeking information about individual bank employees which were personal in nature and devoid of any public interest, was exempted under the Right to Information (RTI) Act.

The court made the observation while allowing an appeal filed by Canara Bank challenging an order of the Kerala High Court directing it to provide information under the Right to Information (RTI) Act about transfers and postings of its entire clerical staff from January 2002 to July 2006.

Relying on an 2013 apex court verdict, a bench comprising Justices R K Agrawal and A M Sapre said the information sought by a man, who was working as a clerical staff in the bank, was “personal in nature” and exempted from being disclosed under section 8(j) of the RTI Act.

It said neither the man had “disclosed any public interest much less larger public interest involved in seeking such information of the individual employee” nor any finding was recorded by Central Information Commission (CIC) and the high court regarding any public interest in supplying such information to him.

He had in August 2006 made an application to the public information officer (PIO) of the bank under the RTI Act and sought information regarding transfers and postings of the entire clerical staff from January 2002 to July 2006 in all the branches.

He had also asked for information regarding personal details of individual employees like date of joining, designation and promotion earned.

The bank’s PIO had expressed his inability to furnish details sought by him on the ground that it was protected from being disclosed under the provisions of the Act and had no nexus with any public interest.

The man had thereafter filed an appeal before the chief public information officer who also dismissed it.

Later, he moved the CIC which in February 2007 asked the bank to furnish the information sought by him.

Aggrieved by the order, the bank approached the high court which dismissed its plea while affirming the order of the CIC.

The top court allowed the appeal filed by the bank while setting aside the orders of the high court and the CIC.

Office of AG does not come under RTI ambit: Delhi HC

Office of AG does not come under RTI ambit: Delhi HC
Office of AG does not come under RTI ambit: Delhi HC

The office of the Attorney General of India (AGI) does not come under the ambit of the Right to Information (RTI) Act as it is not a “public authority”, the Delhi High Court ruled today.

The verdict by a bench of Chief Justice G Rohini and Justice Jayant Nath came on the appeals by the Centre challenging the decision of a single judge who had held that the office of the AGI is a public authority falling under the ambit of the RTI Act.

“It cannot be ignored that the predominant function of the AGI is to give advice upon legal matters, to appear in court as stated, i.e perform duties akin to an advocate/senior advocate…

“Essentially, the function being that akin to an advocate of the Government of India (GoI), he is in a fiduciary relationship with the GoI and cannot put in the public domain his opinions or the materials forwarded to him.

“We are unable to agree with the conclusion of the single judge that the office of the AGI falls within description of public authority,” the bench said and set aside the single judge’s order.

The Law Ministry had filed the appeals against the March 10, 2015 order of the single judge bench bringing the AGI’s office under the ambit of the RTI Act on the grounds the top law officer performed public functions and his appointment was governed by the Constitution.

In its order, the single judge bench had declared the AGI’s office as a public authority, saying he performs the functions as are required by virtue of Article 76(2) of the Constitution and had set aside the December 2012 CIC order that the AGI is not a public authority.

During the arguments in the appeals, Additional Solicitor General Sanjay Jain had argued that the office of the AGI does not come under the RTI as the top law officer is in a fiduciary relationship with the government.

Agreeing with the ASG’s argument, the bench said, “The AGI is not a functionary reposed with any administrative or other authority which effects the rights or liabilities of persons”, and disposed of the appeals.

( Source – PTI )

Chief Information Commissioner can transfer Commissioners: HC

The Bombay High Court has held that the State Chief Information Commissioner has powers under Right to Information Act (RTI) to transfer State Information Commissioner from one region to another for the purpose of ensuring that the Commission functions in a smooth manner.

This significant ruling was delivered by a bench headed by Justice V M Kanade, who recently held that the State Chief Information Commissioner has such powers under section 15(4) of RTI Act to transfer State Information Commissioners from one region to another.

The bench was hearing a petition filed by a Pune-based journalist Vijay Kumbhar challenging transfer of Ravindra Jadhav, State information Commissioner posted at Amravati, to another place.

Jadhav did not challenge his transfer but Kumbhar filed a petition challenging the transfer of Jadhav from Amravati to another place on the ground that the State Chief Information Officer had no powers under RTI Act to transfer State Information Commissioners.

The high court was satisfied that the petitioner was a responsible public activist and hence it permitted him to file this petition as a PIL.

“In our view, the State Chief Information Commissioner has powers under section 15 (4) of RTI Act to transfer State Information Commissioners from one place to another to ensure smooth functioning of the Commissions in the State,” the bench ruled.

“If there is any curb on his authority, the very aim and object of having the State Information Commission would be rendered nugatory and would be defeated. We do not see any substance in the petition,” said the bench.

“The petition is therefore dismissed and the interim order passed earlier stands vacated,” the bench ruled.

“It has to be remembered that the RTI Act was passed in order to ensure that there is transparency in the functioning of the Governments and their instrumentalities. In a democratic country, citizens are required to be informed about the manner in which the governments and their authorities function so that there is no scope for arbitrary action and also to contain corruption and lastly to hold governments and their instrumentalities accountable,” the bench further observed.

Notes of judges’ stenos don’t come under RTI: HC

Notes of judges' stenos don't come under RTI: HC
Notes of judges’ stenos don’t come under RTI: HC

Notes dictated by a judge to a stenographer during the hearing of a case would not be considered as a record held by a public authority and hence cannot be sought under the Right to Information Act, Delhi High Court has ruled.

“Shorthand notebook can at best be treated as a memo of what is dictated to a steno to be later transcribed into a draft judgment or an order.

“When draft judgments and order do not form part of a ‘record’ held by a public authority, a shorthand note book which is memo of what is dictated and which would later be typed to become a draft judgment or an order can certainly not be held to be ‘record’ held by a public authority,”

Justice Sanjeev Sachdeva said.

The court further clarified that shorthand note books were not retained and cannot be equated with a judgment or an order, which forms part of the judicial record.

The ruling came in a judgement dismissing the plea of a man seeking copies of the shorthand note books in which the stenographer takes dictation of the court.

The court upheld the March 7 order of Central Information Commission (CIC) by which petitioner Tapan Choudhury was denied copies of shorthand notes taken in the high court on May 27, 2013.

The petitioner was denied the information by the Public Information Officer of the high court, who said that shorthand notes were not retained.

The first appellate authority had also held that “no such record was maintained and thus the same cannot be furnished” to the petitioner.

Justice Sachdeva in his decision also relied on a full bench judgement of the high court, which had held that even draft judgments signed and exchanged are not to be considered as final judgment but only a tentative view liable to change.

“It has been held that draft judgment cannot be said to be information held by a public authority. The full bench held, that the apprehension of the Attorney General, that notes or jottings by the judges or their draft judgments would fall within the purview of Right to Information Act, is misplaced.

“Notes taken by judges while hearing a case cannot be treated as final views expressed by them on the case and are meant only for the use of the judges and cannot be held to be a part of a record ‘held’ by the public authority,” the court said in its three-page verdict.

( Source – PTI )

Witness act may cover whistle-blowers, RTI activists

Witness act may cover whistle-blowers, RTI activists
Witness act may cover whistle-blowers, RTI activists

Maharashtra government was considering inclusion of whistle-blowers and RTI activists in the proposed Witness Protection Act, it told the Bombay High Court today.

While a policy to provide police protection to witnesses in sensitive cases was already in place, a legislation would be framed soon, additional government pleader Nitin Deshpande told the division bench of justices A S Okaand Revati Mohite-Dere.

Apart from the witnesses, the government was considering inclusion of RTI activists and whistle-blowers in the Act, he said.

Giving the government three months to frame the law, the High Court said until it came into effect, the police should provide protection to whistle-blowers and RTI activists upon request.

The issue of protection of witnesses, whistle-blowers and activists was taken up suo moto (on its own) by the court after the murder of Pune-based RTI activist Satish Shetty in 2010.

Supreme Court notices Centre to get political parties under RTI

Supreme Court notices Centre to get political parties under RTI
Supreme Court notices Centre to get political parties under RTI

The Supreme Court today sought responses from the Centre, the Election Commission and six political parties, including Congress and BJP, on a plea to declare all national and regional political parties “public authorities” to bring them under the ambit of the Right to Information (RTI) Act.

“Issue notice,” a bench comprising Chief Justice H L Dattuand justices Arun Kumar Mishra and Amitava Roy said.

The Association for Democratic Reforms, an NGO, has also sought a direction that the political parties be asked to declare all donations, including those below Rs 20,000 also.

Lawyer Prashant Bhushan, appearing for the NGO, contended that political parties were public authorities and hence amenable to the RTI Act.

The Central Information Commission, in its detailed order, had held that political parties were public authorities and hence should disclose the information under RTI Act.

“Political parties do not have to pay the income tax on the donations and, moreover, the donations below Rs 20,000 are not to be disclosed under the law by them,” the lawyer said, adding that these parties also controlled the legislature and the law-making process.

Earlier, the NGO had approached SC seeking transparency and accountability in functioning of recognised national and regional political parties.

It had claimed that the political parties received huge sums of money in form of donations and contributions from corporates, trusts and individuals but do not disclose complete information about the source of such donations.

In its plea, the NGO had urged the apex court to direct all national and regional parties to mandatorily disclose details about their income as well as expenditure.

It had also sought declaration of entire details of donations and funding received by the political parties, irrespective of the amount donated and details of donors making donations to them and to electoral trusts.

The petition had claimed that political parties enjoyed a stronghold over their elected MPs and MLAs under Schedule 10 of the Constitution that makes it compulsory for members of either Houses of Parliament or state legislatures to abide by the directions of their parties, failing which they stand to be disqualified.