The issue of whether the Reserve Bank of India
("RBI") is bound to disclose information sought
under the Right to Information Act, 2005 ("RTI
Act") was recently examined by the Hon'ble Supreme
Court in the case Reserve Bank of India and Ors. v. Jayantilal
N. Mistry and Ors., decided on December 16, 2015. The case in
question dealt with certain orders of Central Information
Commissioner ("CIC") requiring RBI to furnish
information sought by the applications filed under the RTI Act
seeking certain information of other banks in public interest.
RBI denied disclosure of information received by it through other
banks such as unpaid loans of industrialists, top defaulters of the
public sector banks, fines imposed on other banks by RBI, etc., on
the ground of being exempted under Section 8(1)(a), (d) and (e) of
the RTI Act1. The denial was primarily made on the basis
of economic interest, commercial confidence, and fiduciary
relationship of RBI with other banks. RBI further contended that
RTI Act was a general law and it could not override the
confidentiality provisions under the specific legislations such as
Banking Regulation Act, 1949, the Reserve Bank of India Act, 1934
and the Credit Information Companies (Regulation) Act, 2005.
Court's Decision: The Apex Court
rejected the contentions raised by the RBI and upheld the orders of
the CIC. It observed that RBI does not place itself in fiduciary
relationship with other banks as information received from other
financial institutions is not received under pretext of trust or
confidence but under the ambit of RBI's statutory duty to
oversee the functioning of the banks and the country's banking
sector. RBI has a statutory duty to uphold the interest of the
public at large, the depositors, the economy and the banking sector
of the country, and not the interest of individual banks.
Therefore, RBI is duty bound to comply with the provisions of the
RTI Act and disclose the information sought in the instant
RBI's contention that disclosure of information would
prejudicially affect the economic interest of the State and may
lead to systematic crisis for financial stability if information
sought is sensitive, was also rejected by the Court as being
baseless and it was held that the disclosure in question would
serve public interest.
The Court further observed that the right to information
regarding the functioning of public institutions is a fundamental
right enshrined in Article 19 of the Constitution, and the RTI Act
being a later legislation aimed to bring transparency, overrides
all earlier laws and practices except in case of specific
exemptions enumerated under Section 8 of the RTI Act.
Publicized as a landmark win, this judgement has been welcomed
by the RTI activists. The implications of this judgement may indeed
be far reaching, paving the way for greater accountability and
transparency in the financial market.
1 Section 8 of the RTI Act mentions "exemption
from disclosure of information.—
(1) Notwithstanding anything contained in this Act,
there shall be no obligation to give any
(a) information, disclosure of which would
prejudicially affect the sovereignty and integrity of India, the
security, strategic, scientific or economic interests of the State,
relation with foreign State or lead to incitement of an
(d) information including commercial confidence, trade
secrets or intellectual property, the disclosure of which would
harm the competitive position of a third party, unless the
competent authority is satisfied that larger public interest
warrants the disclosure of such information;
(e) information available to a person in his fiduciary
relationship, unless the competent authority is satisfied that the
larger public interest warrants the disclosure of such
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