New Delhi, April 26 (IANS) The Supreme Court on Friday gave the RBI “one last opportunity” to disclose annual inspection reports of banks as it just stopped short of issuing a contempt notice against RBI Governor Shaktikanta Das, and ordered the Reserve Bank of India to diclose the wilful defaulters’ list under the Right To Information Act.
The top court also ordered the central bank to withdraw its non-disclosure policy, which the court concluded is in violation of the apex court’s judgment in 2015.
Taking a serious view of the continued defiance, the court came down heavily asking the RBI to make full disclosure of its annual inspection reports on the financial health of banks, including position of NPAs, and also withdraw its disclosure norms as it came in the way of making public informations on the state of banks under the RTI.
A bench of Justice L. Nageswara Rao and Justice M.R. Shah said the banks are “duty bound to furnish all information relating to inspection reports and other material apart from the material that was exempted in para 77 of the judgement. Any further violation shall be viewed seriously by this Court.”
Pronouncing the judgment, Justice Nageswara Roa said, “Though we could have taken a serious view of the Respondents (RBI and the Banks) continuing to violate the directions issued by this Court, we give them a last opportunity to withdraw the disclosure policy insofar as it contains exemptions which are contrary to the directions issued by this Court.”
Referring to paragraph 77 of the December 16, 2015 judgement, the court said that the only exception that was carved out by the top court in its 2015 judgment was relating to the disclosure of information having bearing on “security of the State.”
Referring to the new disclosure policy that was uploaded by the RBI on April 12, 2019 replacing the earlier policy of November 30, 2016, the court said, “The respondents (banks) in our opinion, have committed contempt of this court by exempting disclosure of material that was directed to be given by this court.”
However, it recorded the submission by RBI that the new policy would be deleted from its website.
The top court by its December 16, 2015, judgement had said that banks and their apex regulatory body Reserve Bank of India could not withhold information on defaulters, losses and alleged illegalities of the banks by invoking the exception under the Right to Information Act.
“The ideal of ‘Government by the people’ makes it necessary that people have access to information on matters of public concern. The free flow of information about affairs of Government paves the way for debate in public policy and fosters accountability in Government. It creates a condition for ‘open governance’ which is a foundation of democracy”, the bench of Justice M.Y.EqbalAand Justice C. Nagappan (since both retired) had said in their 2015 judgement.
The RBI, as per 2015 judgement, was supposed to disclose the annual audit report of the banks, status of NPAs and action taken there on.
The top court by its 2015 order had asked the RBI to share information on the annual audit of the banks including on NPAs under the Right to Information Act.
However, this was stalled after RBI introduced disclosure norms that blocked the disclosure of information on the financial health of the banks under the RTI. An RTI activist Subhash Chander Agrawal had moved the top court seeking contempt action against RBI Governor for not complying with its 2015 judgement.
Girish Mittal and Agrawal had moved the top court for contempt action against the RBI not complying with the court’s direction to disclose information under the Right to Information (RTI) Act.
The petitioners had claimed that RBI and its former Governor Urjit Patel had “wilfully and deliberately” disobeyed the top court’s judgement asking the central bank to disclose information under the RTI Act.
The court rejected the contention of the apex bank and others that its (top court’s) December 16, 2015 judgement needs reconsideration saying “We are not persuaded to accept the submission … that the judgment dated 16.12.2015 requires reconsideration as we cannot consider the said submission while deciding the contempt petitions.”
The two petitioners sought initiation of contempt of court action against former Governor for not disclosing information as directed by the top court.
One of the contempt petitions filed by Girish Mittal said that RBI refused to provide information sought about the inspection reports of some banks.
In December 2015, the petitioner under the RTI Act had sought certain information which included copies of inspection reports of ICICI Bank, Axis Bank, HDFC Bank and State Bank of India from April 2011 till December 2015.
The petitioner had also sought copies of case files with file notings on various irregularities detected by RBI in case of Sahara Group of companies and erstwhile Bank of Rajasthan by these entities themselves and their known/unknown promoters.
However, RBI denied the information in January 2016 that such information is exempted under Section 8(1)(e) of the RTI Act and Section 45NB of the Reserve Bank of India Act.
The petitioners contended that top court in 2016 while directing disclosure of a very similar type of information sought under the RTI Act had observed RBI is clearly not in any fiduciary relationship with any bank.
The petitioners argued that the responses of RBI are in complete violation of the top court judgement by which it was held that RBI ought to act with transparency and not hide information that might embarrass individual banks and it is duty bound to comply with the provisions of the RTI Act and disclose the information sought.