Mumbai: The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has approached the Bombay high court against a Central Information Commission (CIC) order for the central bank to provide details of foreign donors placed by the ministry of home affairs on the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA) watchlist. RBI is seeking a stay on the order passed by the CIC on 28 June 2018.

In its petition, RBI said that the CIC has issued a showcause notice and directed it to disclose the information to a Right to Information (RTI) application that had been rejected by the central bank earlier.

The central bank said that it cannot disclose the information because it receives it from the ministry of home affairs as a confidential document.

“Respondent No 3 (Ministry of Home Affairs) has always considered information pertaining to the Prior Reference Category (PRC) to be sensitive and confidential, and asked RBI not to disclose the same or any part thereof," it added.

According to FCRA guidelines, renewal of registration for receiving foreign funds cannot be granted unless the organization uploads its annual returns on the FCRA website.

More than 20,000 NGOs are registered under the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act.

The genesis of the dispute lies in an application filed by an RTI Activist, Ajay Gupta, seeking information of these donations and lists from the RBI. Gupta is respondent no 2 in the case.

However, the central bank had refused to give any such information, prompting Gupta to approach the CIC, appealing against the RBI. The CIC then issued a show cause notice to the central bank, asking it to disclose the details.

The RTI had sought an updated list of all foreign sources including donors and donor agencies that have been identified by the ministry of home affairs and placed on its watchlist with the effect that any payment or foreign contribution by the donor and donor agency shall not be credited by the receiving banks into the accounts of beneficiaries/recipients except with the prior permission of the ministry of home affairs.

On 30 June 2017, the home ministry directed 3,768 NGOs across the country to validate their foreign contribution designated accounts with banks, saying failure to so would invite penalty.

“The impugned (CIC) order and the show cause notice passed by the Respondent No 1 (CIC) are ex-facie illegal, arbitrary and unsustainable in law," said the RBI in its plea.

“There is no provision in FCRA, 2010 which require RBI to maintain an updated list of such foreign contribution and Respondent No 3 has also not given any instructions to RBI, in an exercise of its powers under FCRA, 2010, to maintain an updated list of such foreign contributors," the petition argued.

On Thursday, counsel for the CIC informed the Bombay high court that they have submitted their response in the petition of the RBI, while the ministry of home affairs sought two week time to file its response.

A division bench of the Bombay high court comprising justice B.P. Dharmadhikari granted time to the RTI activist and MHA to file their response and adjourned the matter till 18 December.

maulik.v@livemint.com

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