The Reservation Bank of India (RBI) has rejected a right to information (RTI) plea seeking access to RBI's board meeting minutes and recommendations to the government, as also related file notings, starting with the date on which the recommendation may have been made to demonetize the Rs 1,000 and Rs 500 currency notes.
The RTI plea was set aside under Section 8(1)(a) of the RTI Act, which authorities government officials to reject an RTI plea as it would allegedly “infringe” upon sovereignty and territorial integrity, strategic, scientific, economic, security and defence interests of the state, “affect” relations with foreign states, or might lead to “incitement” to an offence.
The authorities also rejected the RTI plea invoking Section 7(9), saying that the information cannot be provided in the form sought as it would allegedly “lead to disproportionate diversion of resources of the organization.”
The RTI application was made by well-known RTI activist Venkatesh Nayak of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) on November 17.
Earlier, on November 14, Nayak had filed an RTI plea with the Department of Economic Affairs (DEA), Government of India, seeking copies of the note that was approved by the Union Cabinet regarding the decision to demonetize the two currency denominations. The DEA has so far not cared to reply to the RTI application.
Calling the rejections as running against the objective of the RTI Act, of fostering greater transparency and accountability in government, Nayak in an email alert says, “It is not as if RBI refuses to disclose minutes of meetings of all committees that provide it with advice.”
Recalling Prime Minister Narendra Modi's address at the 10th Annual RTI Convention organized by the Central Information Commission (CIC) in October 2015, Nayak says, he had said, people should “not only have the right to seek copies of official records under RTI, but also demand accountability for the decisions taken by public authorities.”
Nayak regrets, “It is sad that the Prime Minister's vision of transparency is not shared by the officers who work under him”, adding, “I was not even questioning the wisdom of the decision. Instead, I had sought only copies of official records containing details of the decision making process.”
“If there cannot be complete transparency on this issue, then it must be assumed that the transparency regime has simply not taken roots in India even after 11 years of implementation of the RTI Act”, complains Nayak.
He adds, “While confidentiality prior to the making of the demonetization decision is understandable, continued secrecy after the decision is implemented is difficult to understand when crores of Indians have faced difficulties due to the shortage of cash supply.”
RBI, and earlier DEA, decision not to reveal the decisions leading to the demonetization announcement of November 8, comes amidst Shashikanta Das, secretary, DEA, saying, there is “no need to go into the process of decision making regarding the November 8 demonetization drive” (click HERE to watch video).
Comments Nayak, “This is a worrisome departure from the commitment to transparency and accountability voiced by the Prime Minister time and again.