Mumbai: In a strong move to ensure transparency in the banking sector, the Supreme Court on Friday directed the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) to disclose information about its annual inspection report of banks and the list of wilful defaulters under the Right to Information Act (RTI).
While hearing a contempt petitions filed by RTI activists Subhash Chandra Agrawal and Girish Mittal against the RBI, the apex court took a serious view of non-disclosure of this information by the central bank and said that any further violation would invite contempt of court proceedings.
The SC held that the RBI’s non-disclosure policy was in violation of the court’s 2015 judgement and ordered the policy to be withdrawn.
The petitioners had claimed that the RBI and its former governor Urjit Patel had “wilfully and deliberately” disobeyed the top court’s judgement that asked the central bank to disclose information under the RTI Act.
The two petitioners sought initiation of contempt of court action against the former governor for not disclosing information as directed by the top court.
Ordering the central bank to disclose the information unless exempted under law, the bench did not go ahead with contempt proceedings against the RBI.
The Supreme Court ruled that RBI was duty-bound to disclose information related to wilful defaulters.
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 the RBI in Sahara Group of Companies and erstwhile Bank of Rajasthan, by these entities themselves and their known/unknown promoters.
However, the RBI denied the information in January 2016 saying 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 the top court in 2016, while directing disclosure of a very similar type of information sought under the RTI Act, had observed that the RBI is clearly not in any fiduciary relationship with any bank.
The petitioners have argued that the responses of the RBI are in complete violation of the top court’s judgement, by which it was held that the 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.