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National

Showcause Notice to RBI Governor Raises Eyebrows Within CIC

November 09, 2018 06:20 AM

COURTESY ET NOV 9

INFO COMMISSIONERS PUT ON RECORD THEIR RESERVATIONS BEFORE CHIEF INFORMATION COMMISSIONER RK MATHUR
Showcause Notice to RBI Governor Raises Eyebrows Within CIC
Notice goes against CIC’s previous orders, including 2017 order of a full bench
Nidhi.Sharma@timesgroup.com

New Delhi:

The showcause notice issued by the Central Information Commission (CIC) to Reserve Bank of India (RBI) governor Urjit Patel over non-disclosure of the list of wilful defaulters has raised eyebrows within the commission as it goes against CIC’s previous orders, including a 2017 order of a full bench.


So far, the transparency watchdog has maintained, in at least 10 orders, that the issue of wilful bank defaulters is sub-judice before the Supreme Court and information cannot be provided. According to people aware of the matter, there has been unease in the commission ever since information commissioner M Sridhar Acharyulu issued a showcause notice to the RBI governor on November 2. Internally, information commissioners have punched holes in the order and questioned both its legal tenability and Acharyulu’s conduct.

Chief information commissioner RK Mathur had called a meeting of the full commission on Tuesday to discuss the issue but later decided against it, said one of the persons, who spoke on condition of anonymity. However, information commissioners have put on record their reservations before Mathur.

The showcause notice has been questioned as a bench comprising information commissioners Sudhir Bhargava and Manjula Prasher had ruled on May 24, 2017, that the list could not be disclosed since the matter was sub-judice before the top court. Even later, Bhargava, who has been allocated RBI and finance ministry, has given other orders disallowing disclosure.

Commissioners have said that Acharyulu overstepped the brief as the matter before him pertained to the Director General of Employment under labour ministry of labour and he gave directions to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) and ministries including those of finance, rural development, skill development and entrepreneurship, and statistics and programme implementation. While Acharyulu deals with RTI matters of ministries of statistics and programme implementation, and labour, the others are handled by Mathur (PMO), Sudhir Bhargava (finance ministry, RBI) and Amitava Bhattacharya (rural development).

The timing of the order and the alacrity with which the CIC has moved over the matter has also been questioned. An information commissioner, who did not wish to be identified, told ET that the showcause notice came just 18 days before Acharyulu retires on November 20. Acharyulu has given Patel 14 days till November 16 to reply to the showcause notice for imposing maximum penalty. The information commissioner said he questioned the conduct of Acharyulu before the chief. “He appeared on a TV discussion to discuss a showcause notice. It is unprecedented. The matter is still being heard and the final decision would come on November 16. You appear biased if you argue for or against the matter on national television,” the commissioner said.

The applicant, Sandeep Singh Jadoun, had filed an RTI application in February and filed first appeal and then second appeal in March. Despite an average wait of nine months to one year or more at CIC, the applicant’s turn came before Acharyulu within three months in June. Successive hearings took place on June 25 and September 20 and the showcause notice was issued on November 2. Information commissioners have also pointed to the chief that lawyer Prashant Bhushan was also present at the commission during this case hearing. However, the showcause notice, a copy of which has been seen by ET, does not reflect whether Bhushan was present during the hearing or he was representing the applicant

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