New Delhi: The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has challenged an order by the Central Information Commission (CIC) asking the central bank to disclose names of the top 100 industrialists who have defaulted on loan repayments.
In a writ petition to the Delhi high court, scheduled to be heard on 29 May, RBI has argued that provisions of the RBI Act, 1934, prohibit disclosing credit information relating to bank customers and that doing so will violate confidentiality.
RBI has asked the court to quash the order. Mint has reviewed a copy of the petition.
The view the high court takes on the petition could well decide the larger issue of how much information India’s regulators can withhold or disclose under the Right to Information Act (RTI), 2005.
An RBI spokesperson declined to comment, saying the matter is in court.
CIC, which enforces the Right to Information, on 15 November directed RBI to make public the names of the top 100 industrialists who have defaulted on loans taken from public sector banks.
RBI had refused to disclose the information in response to an RTI application filed by P.P. Kapoor on 16 August 2010.
“...the direction of the Central Information Commission to disclose the details of the top 100 defaulters, who are industrialists, by making them a separate category and holding that public interest demanded disclosure of such information is against the basic tenets of banking,” RBI said in its petition. Customer information is treated as “sacrosanct and confidential world over”, the central bank said.
CIC had said the information sought should be provided in the “larger public interest” and that it would serve the objective of “reining in such defaulters”.
The commission had directed RBI to furnish the information by December 2011 to the applicant and publish it on its website.
RBI had earlier quoted sections 8 (1), (a) and (e) of the RTI Act, which say a public authority is not obliged to share information if such disclosure “would prejudicially affect the sovereignty and integrity of India” and if available to a person in a “fiduciary relationship”.
CIC said in its directive that the information provided by the banks to RBI is done under statutory compliances.
“In fact, where RBI requires certain information to be furnished to it by banks and such banks have no choice but to furnish this information, it would appear that such requirement of RBI is directory in nature,” CIC said in its order. “Consequently, no fiduciary relationship is created between RBI and the banks.”
The commission said if RBI can share the information with Credit Information Bureau (India) Ltd (Cibil), the country’s largest aggregator of data on borrowers, it should have no issues in placing the information in the public domain.
RBI, in its petition, said it circulates a list containing details of non-suit filed accounts of defaulters of Rs1 crore and above and a list of wilful defaulters of Rs25 lakh and above only among banks and financial institutions for their confidential use. Only in cases where lawsuits have been filed, the information is passed on to Cibil.
“There is nothing fiduciary when public money is being defaulted upon. It is a gross violation of the people’s relationship with the bank and they have every right to know the details,” said Nikhil Dey, an RTI activist and a convener of the National Campaign for People’s Right to Information.