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RTI applications to PSU banks dwindled, rejection rates shot up in 2014-15

By Venkatesh Nayak*
Readers may remember the recommendations of the P J Nayak Committee constituted to examine the governance of boards of commercial banks a couple of years ago. This Committee gave its report in May 2014. One of its findings was that coverage of the public sector banks (PS Banks) under The Right to Information Act, 2005 (RTI Act) was hampering their ability to compete with their rivals in the private sector. No data was produced in support of this finding. Ever since, we at CHRI have examined this claim year after year in the light of the Annual Reports released by the Central Information Commission which contain RTI application statistics submitted by these PS Banks under Section 25 of the RTI Act.
The Annual Report of the CIC for the year 2014-15 is out. As we wait for the uploading of the e-version of this report on its website, our findings based on a rapid analysis of the RTI statistics of 24 PS Banks is given below. Two years ago we started examining the data for 20 banks on an annual basis. Now that data is available for multiple years for more banks we have increased the number to 24 this year.

Major Findings

The 24 PS Banks dealt with a total of 79,148 RTI applications in 2014-15 (including the backlog from 2013-14). This amounts to 56.4% of the total volume of RTI applications received by the Ministry of Finance in 2014-15 (140,324 RTI applications). The State Bank of India being the largest banking network across the country received the most number of RTI applications – 24,783 i.e, more than 31.3% of the total number of RTI applications received by the 24 PS Banks analysed here. Bank of India with 9,080 RTI applications is in 2nd place followed by Punjab National Bank at 3rd place with 7,779 RTI applications dealt with in 2014-15.
In 2014-15, the State Bank of Hyderabad witnessed the largest increase (41.59%) in the number of RTI applications dealt with as compared to the previous year. State Bank of Patiala stood 2nd with an increase of 30.64% in the RTI applications dealt with in 2014-15. Punjab and Sind Bank took the 3rd place with an increase of 25.30% in the number of RTI applications dealt with during the same period.
In 2014-15, 10 of the 24 PS Banks witnessed a significant decline in the number of RTI applications dealt with. In 2013-14 when data from 20 PS Banks was analysed by us, only 6 Banks witnessed a declining trend in the number of RTI applications dealt with when compared with the previous reporting year of 2012-13. This appears to be in tune with the overall trend of decline in the number of RTI applicationsdealt with by public authorities under the Central Government in 2014-15.
The biggest decline in the RTI applications as compared to the immediately previous reporting period i.e. over 22% – dealt with during 2014-15 was reported by the Bank of Maharashtra, followed by State Bank of Travancore at 19.30%, with Central Bank of India occupying 3rd place with a decline of 17.17%.
Andhra Bank reported rejecting every second RTI application during 2014-15. It had rejected 55.1%, i.e., more than half of the RTI applications dealt with during this period. Canara Bank takes 2nd place with a rejection of 49.1% (almost half) of the RTI applications dealt with in 2014-15. Corporation Bank takes the 3rd place with a rejection of 45.8%. These 3 Banks rejected 4-5 of every 10 RTI applications they received during 2014-15.
The lowest rejection figures are reported by the United Bank of India- 6.2% in 2014-15. The Indian Bank rejected a little less than 12% of the RTI applications during this period. The remaining 22 PS Banks rejected between one fifth and more than one half of the RTI applications during this period.
During the period 2014-15, all 24 PS Banks included in this study, opened new offices across the country. Bank of India was the only bank which averaged close to 2 RTI applications per office (1.79). Only the State Bank of India, State Bank of Bikaner & Jaipur and Punjab National bank averaged more than one RTI application per office during this period, with all other Banks averaging less than one RTI application per office. So the RTI statistics submitted by the banks to the CIC do not prove the “constraint theory” regarding their governance which was looked upon approvingly by the P J Nayak Committee in 2014.
No positive or negative correlation could be identified between the volume of Net NPAs reported by the 24 PS Banks and the number RTI applications they dealt with during 2014-15. Several Banks with lesser volume of Net NPAs registered a hike of between 8-40% increase in the number of RTI applications dealt with.
However, the proportion of rejection of RTI applications was quite high in Banks that had reported large volumes of Net NPAs in 2014-15. Indian Overseas Bank, Bank of Baroda and Canara Bank which had reported Net NPAs ranging more than Rs. 8,000 crores, rejected between a third to almost one half of the RTI applications in 2014-15, indicating a very high proportion of rejection of RTI applications. The State Bank of India with the largest volume of Net NPAs amongst the 24 PS Banks included in this study rejected 20% of the RTI applications during this period. State Bank of Mysore and Vijaya Bank are exceptions to this trend as their rejections were very high – between 26-39% despite the volume of their Net NPAs being less than Rs. 2,000 crores.
Unless a study of the nature and scope of the RTI applications dealt with by these PS Banks is undertaken it is not possible to state authoritatively as to whether the high proportion of rejection was due to information being sought about NPAs from these Banks. Such a study is the urgent need of the hour. Moreover, the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India had directed the Reserve Bank of India to disclose information about NPAs to RTI applicants in the matter of Reserve Bankof India vs Jayantilal N Mistry and related cases [Transferred Cases (Civil) Nos. 91-101, judgement dated 16/12/2016]. Whether Banks have become more transparent about NPAs in compliance with this direction, remains to be examined. The RTI statistics for the coming years may throw some light on this issue.

*Programme Coordinator, Access to Information Programme, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, New Delhi

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