Bombay HC seeks govt view on RBI plea against CIC's wilful defaulters order

In the tussle between the Central Information Commission (CIC) and the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), which had filed a petition in the Bombay high court on November 1 against the CIC in the matter of disclosure of names of wilful defaulters, the court has sought the government's response in two weeks.

In the hearing on Thursday, the court adjourned the matter to December 18. The RBI, in its petition, said that the Union home ministry had asked it not to disclose the names of defaulters, as that could jeopardise national security.

"The RBI is only maintaining this confidentiality. In August, the RBI addressed a letter to the Union home ministry apprising it of the CIC order. The ministry replied that the said information was confidential and ought not to be disclosed," the RBI said in its petition.

The RBI also said that it only passes information received from the home ministry to the banks concerned and does not maintain a database of the information that has been asked for by the CIC.

Acting on the appeal against the denial of a Right to Information (RTI) request filed by a petitioner, who had sought a list of the names of wilful defaulters of Rs 500 million or above, Central Information Commissioner M Sridhar Acharyulu passed an order on July 4, asking the RBI, the finance ministry and the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) to furnish the list of names of wilful defaulters within four weeks.

However, neither RBI nor the PMO furnished the list. The reason cited by RBI’s chief public information officer was that the information regarding people who have wilfully defaulted on the loans given to them is a matter of confidentiality and the RBI is exempted from disclosing such information. The reason given by the PMO was that the RTI request was not directed at the PMO, hence, it was under no obligation to comply with the CIC’s orders.

But Acharyulu had a different opinion as he felt that RBI's refusal to divulge information was in violation with the Supreme Court decision, which asked for disclosure of names of wilful defaulters, thus, upholding the decision taken by then information commissioner Shailesh Gandhi.

Irked by the refusal, the CIC issued a show-cause notice to the RBI governor asking why a penalty should not be issued against him for refusing to comply with the apex court's order. The RBI had then sought time till November 26 to file its response. In the meanwhile, Acharyulu's term as the information commissioner came to an end on November 20.

(With inputs from PTI)

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