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SC Takes a Step Back, Stops Banks' Inspection Reports Under RTI

Supreme Court. (Image: Network18 Creatives)

Supreme Court. (Image: Network18 Creatives)

The order came on a bunch of applications moved by HDFC, ICICI, SBI and some other banks that wanted the court to recall its order of December 16, 2015, wherein the Supreme Court had held that RBI was obligated under the transparency law to part with the inspection reports of the banks.

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Utkarsh Anand

New Delhi: Four years after it broke new grounds for the people’s right to know, the Supreme Court has taken a step back by directing the RBI not to release inspection reports of the scheduled commercial banks under the Right to Information (RTI) Act.

Issuing its interim order last week, the top court restrained the Reserve Bank of India from putting in public domain all types of inspection reports of public sector and private banks till its further order.

“Inspection Reports/Risk Assessment Reports/Annual Financial Inspection Reports of the Banks including State Bank of India shall not be released by the Reserve Bank of India until further orders,” said a bench headed by Justice SA Nazeer.

The order came on a bunch of applications moved by HDFC, ICICI, SBI and some other banks that wanted the court to recall its order of December 16, 2015, wherein the Supreme Court had held that RBI was obligated under the transparency law to part with the inspection reports of the banks.

In its landmark verdict, the apex court had trashed the objection that RBI held such information about the banks in a fiduciary capacity while making it clear that the banking regulator must act with transparency and not hide information that might embarrass the individual banks.

Not only this, when the RBI came out with a circular in 2018 that sought to dilute the impact of the court verdict, the Supreme Court in April this year maintained that the RBI and its various departments have committed contempt of this court by exempting disclosure of material that was directed to be given by this Court in the 2015 order.

As the last opportunity, the RBI was directed to do away with its circulars that sought to prohibit disclosure of information relating to NPAs by banks and entities, inspection reports, currency derivative losses, Show Cause Notices and fines imposed by the RBI on various banks as well as several other financial information that touch public interest and furthering their right to know.

Months after the court order in the contempt case, HDFC, SBI and other banks filed fresh pleas for an immunity to part with their inspections reports. However, the grounds cited by the banks remained the same such as economic interest, financial security, competitiveness, balance of two right, which had already been rejected by the Supreme Court in December 2015 and April 2019.

This time though the applications came up before a new bench, which has decided to put brakes on implementation of two previous orders that were applauded as a major step in ushering in transparency and making financial institution answerable under the RTI Act.


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