New Delhi: The Central Information Commission (CIC) has ruled that SBI Cards — a joint venture between state-owned SBI and General Electric (GE) — is a public authority, allowing customers to seek any information about the entity under the Right to Information Act.
Disposing of separate applications by SBI Cards customers Arun Kumar Verma and Dileep Ayachit, CIC has directed the SBI to take a decision on setting up a proper information redressal mechanism within 15 days.
The CIC has given SBI the option to either designate its own officers for providing information about SBI Cards or set up a separate mechanism within the subsidiary to provide information under the provisions of the RTI Act.
“...SBI, being a public authority, should ensure that some agency is available to answer the citizens when they seek information about their own cards. It can not wash off its responsibility after having allowed SBI Cards to use its brand name and logo,” Information Commissioner Padma Balasubramanian said in his decision.
The card holders filed the application with CIC after SBI and the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) turned down their request for information on the ground that SBI Cards was not a “public authority” within the meaning of the RTI Act.
The CIC ruled that SBI Cards was a public authority as SBI owns more than 51% shares in the JV.
SBI holds 60% equity in the SBI Cards, which was incorporated in 1998. The remaining portion is owned by GE.
SBI contended that SBI Cards, though a subsidiary, was an independent private company in itself and hence could not be brought under the purview of the RTI Act.
The RBI argued that government did not exercise “deep and pervasive control” over the affairs of SBI Cards and hence it would not be appropriate to describe it as a public authority.
Rejecting the contentions of both SBI and RBI, the Commission ruled that SBI Cards was very much within the ambit of the transparency law and has to be treated as a “public authority”.
“Neither SBI nor RBI has clarified or commented upon the legal relationship between a holding corporation/company with that of its subsidiary. As I understand legally, the affairs of a holding company/corporation includes the affairs of its subsidiary,” the CIC observed.
SBI exerted an “all pervasive control over functioning of SBI Cards,” CIC said, adding that it was apparent the parent organisation was carrying one of its business through “the instrumentality of one of its own subsidiaries (SBI Cards).”