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24 PSU banks dealt with just 7% of RTI pleas by 1,903 CIC public authorities

By Venkatesh Nayak*
In May 2014, an expert committee under the Chairpersonship of Mr. P. J. Nayak submitted a report to the Reserve Bank of India, reviewing the governance of boards of banks- both public and private in India. The committee blamed the Right to Information Act, 2005 (RTI Act) as a major constraint on the governance of public sector banks. The Committee believed that the coverage of public sector banks (PS Banks) under the RTI Act severely inhibited their ability to compete with their rivals in the private sector. This impressionistic view was not supported by any credible evidence or facts and figures in the Committee’s report. Although the Central Government has not acted on this recommendation yet, it has not conclusively rejected this recommendation either.
Ever since, the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) has conducted an assessment of the workload of RTI on public sector banks and their treatment of RTI applications year after year to lay bare the trends in their receipt and disposal.
The RTI application statistics of 24 PS Banks and the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) published in the Annual Reports of the Central Information Commission (CIC) over the last three years (2013-16) are analysed in this note. These statistics were provided to the CIC by the banks themselves under Section 25 of the RTI Act. Statistics relating to number of offices of Banks and the volume of their net non-performing assets have been sourced from the RBI’s website.
Our major findings are given below (for tabulated representation of the relevant statistics gleaned from the published sources mentioned above click HERE):
The 24 PS Banks dealt with a total of 82,102 RTI applications during the year 2015-16 (including the backlog from 2014-15). This amounts to about 7% of the 11.65 lakh RTI applications (includes the backlog from 2014-15) reported by the 1,903 public authorities registered with the CIC.
If the backlog from 2014-15 is deducted from the total figure of 82,102, the 24 PS Banks received a total of 74,277 RTI applications in 2015-16. This amounts to 7.60% of the 9.76 lakh RTI applications CIC (after excluding the backlog accumulated from 2014-15) received by the 1,903 public authorities registered with the CIC.
The 24 PS Banks accounted for almost 40% of the 2.06 lakh RTI applications dealt with by the Ministry of Finance (including the backlog from 2014-15). If the backlog from 2014-15 is deducted, the RTI applications received by the PS Banks constitute almost 48% of the 1.55 lakh RTI applications received by the Ministry of Finance in 2015-16.
Compared to 2014-15, when these 24 PS Banks dealt with 79,148 RTI applications (including the backlog from 2013-14), the RTI applications they dealt with in 2015-16 has increased by 3.6%.
The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) dealt with 16.6% more RTI applications (50,448) in 2015-16 as compared to the previous year. However, its backlog from 2014-15 (38,884 RTI applications) was more than three times the number of RTI applications received in 2015-16 (see Table below). Among the 24 PS Banks, Bank of India (BoI) had the highest backlog of 6,653 RTI applications from 2014-15. Surely, all these RTI applications may not have been submitted in the last month of the reporting year (i.e., March, 2015). It may be noted that this backlog is from the pre-demonetisation period. So their preoccupation with pulling out 86% of the total currency that was in circulation in the country and the subsequent remonetisation efforts, post-November, 2016 cannot be a valid explanation for the backlog that existed in April, 2015. In its Annual Report, the CIC does not record any comment on this trend of piling up of RTI applications by RBI and BoI.
As has been the trend in previous years, with 25,345 RTI applications the State Bank of India (SBI) received the largest number of information requests in 2015-16. This amounts to more than a third (34.12%) of the RTI applications received by all 24 PS Banks put together. With 8,181 RTI applications Punjab National Bank (PNB) received the 2nd highest number of information requests in 2015-16 and the Bank of Baroda occupies third place with 5,073 RTI applications received during this period. In 2014-15 PNB occupied the third position after Bank of India which had received 9,080 RTI applications in 2014-15. It looks like more than two-thirds of these RTI applications had been pending with BoI at the end of the reporting year, 2014-15.
Five PS Banks, namely, Andhra Bank, State Bank of Hyderabad, State Bank of Mysore, State Bank of Travancore and United Bank of India did not report any backlog of RTI applications from 2014-15.
Among the 24 PS Banks, at 40.15%, IDBI Bank Ltd. logged the biggest increase in the proportion of RTI applications dealt with in 2015-16 as compared to the previous year. Bank of Maharashtra clocked an increase of 37.33% followed by Indian Bank with a 12.58% increase reported during the same period, taking 2nd and 3rd places respectively. 10 of the 24 PS Banks reported a drop in the number of RTI applications dealt with in 2015-16. These are: Andhra Bank (-16.49%), Vijaya Bank (-14.80%), UCO Bank (-12.93%), State Bank of Mysore (-10.85%), State Bank of Travancore (-9.97%), Central Bank of India (-6.33%), Corporation Bank (-4.29%), Indian Overseas Bank (-1.32%), Punjab & Sind Bank (-0.23%) and State Bank of Hyderabad (-6.99%). In 2014-15 also, a similar number of Banks reported a decline in the number of RTI applications dealt with as compared to the previous reporting year of 2013-14.
Interestingly, despite reporting a decline in the number of information requests dealt with in 2014-15 as compared to 2013-14, seven PS Banks namely, Allahabad Bank, Bank of Maharashtra, Canara Bank, Indian Bank, Punjab National Bank, State Bank of India and Union Bank of India reported more RTI applications in 2015-16. The numbers have gone up again after recording a fall in 2014-15.
The number of RTI applications has shown a continuous declining trend with regard to the Central Bank of India and the United Bank of India since 2013-14. United Bank of India reported the least number of RTI applications received- 135, in 2015-16. This is a drop of 79% from the total number of information requests received in 2014-15.
Apart from reporting the least number of RTI applications in 2015-16, United Bank of India also rejected nearly 2 of every 3 information requests (65.2%). The proportion of rejection has increased ten-fold in 2015-16 whereas this Bank had reported the lowest proportion of rejection consecutively for two years since 2013- less than 6.5% per year. Whether these figures are correct or if there is any error in reporting to the CIC is difficult to gauge solely on the basis of the Annual Report.
As compared to 2014-15, rejection rates have gone up in 50% of the 24 PS Banks, namely, Allahabad Bank, Andhra Bank, Central Bank of India, Corporation Bank, IDBI Bank Ltd. Indian Overseas Bank, Punjab National Bank, State Bank of Bikaner and Jaipur (SBBJ), State Bank of Hyderabad, State Bank of Mysore, Syndicate Bank and UCO Bank. Andhra Bank (56%) and State Bank of Hyderabad (51.9%) rejected every second RTI application dealt with in 2015-16. Rejection was as high as 49.6% in Corporation Bank, 48.1% in Canara Bank, 43.9% in Indian Overseas Bank, 38.5% in Bank of Maharashtra, 36.3% in State Bank of Mysore and 36% in Allahabad Bank (see table HERE).
However, the proportion of rejections has come down significantly in the case of four banks. For example, Vijaya Bank has halved the number of rejections in 2014-15 to 7% while State Bank of Patiala had reduced it by 7.1%, Punjab and Sind Bank by 6.8% and Bank of Maharashtra by 5% in 2015-16 as compared to the previous year. The proportion of rejections has come down steadily in the case of RBI also, since 2013-14 from 3.7% to 1.3%. This phenomenon requires deeper study. In his inaugural address delivered at the 10th Annual RTI Convention, organized by the Central Information Commission at New Delhi on 16th October, 2015, the Hon’ble Prime Minister of India had recommended that public authorities examine the nature and scope of RTI applications they receive to ascertain the types of information sought frequently and consider the possibility of disclosing such information proactively so that the number of RTI applications is reduced and consequently, the proportion of rejection also falls. Unfortunately neither the CIC nor the Department of Personnel and Training- the nodal department for implementing the RTI Act nor the Ministry of Finance have taken up any such study to examine the high rejection rate in the PS Banks. Initiating such a study would be in accordance with the letter and spirit of Section 4(2) of the RTI Act which requires all public authorities to work towards reducing people’s need to seek information formally, by making voluntary disclosure of a wealth of information.
As regards the RTI load on banks, Bank of India averaged at more than 2 RTI applications per office (up from 1.79 in 2014-15). PNB, SBBJ and SBI averaged more than 1 RTI application per office, while the remaining banks averaged less than 1 RTI application per office in 2015-16. 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. Current RTI statistics reported to the CIC do not indicate the degree of concentration of RTI applications between branch offices of these Banks. It is quite possible that some of the branch offices may be receiving more RTI applications than others. It is important to conduct a third party assessment of the spread of RTI applications between bank branches and then identify measures to assist those receiving a large number of RTI applications to deal with them speedily.
No correlation – whether positive or negative is apparent between the volume of non-performing assets (NPAs) and the increase or decrease in the number of RTI applications received or rejected by the PS Banks. 13 of the 24 PS Banks reported a rise of more than 90% in their net NPAs during 2015-16, the highest being 69% reported by Vijaya Bank. However, a mere examination of RTI statistics reported to the CIC will not reveal much about the connection between rising NPAs and the pattern of information requests received by the PS Banks. A content analysis of the RTI applications received and the manner of their disposal by these Banks will be necessary to establish any positive or negative correlation in this regard. 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 Bank of India vs Jayantilal N Mistry and related cases [Transferred Cases (Civil) Nos. 91-101, judgement dated 16/12/2016]. Whether the directives of the Apex Court are being complied with or not can be ascertained only by examining the RTI applications and the responses of each PS Bank.

*Access to Information Programme, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, New Delhi. Click HERE for for tabulated representation of the relevant statistics

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