Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat
After the overhaul of top management of Jammu & Kashmir Bank (JKB) ,MrR K Chibber who took over as interim Chairman and Managing Director of the Bank has a challenging task before him. In order to restore trust and certitude among the citizens of Jammu & Kashmir particularly the customers Chairman and MD must implement Right to Information Act (RTI) in J&K Bank without any further delay. Implementation of this transparency law in JK Bank is indeed a challenging task , but this can’t be delayed now especially at a time when Supreme Court of India has given a clear cut directiondirecting Reserve Bank of India (RBI) to disclose information regarding annual inspection reports (AIR) of private banks and NPAs under RTI Law. In addition to it the raid conducted by State Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) also makes it clear that JK Bank lacks transparency and that can only be ensured by making the bank accountable not only to Government or anti-graft institutions but to general public as well.
Supreme Court direction
On April 26th this year Supreme Court asked the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) to disclose certain information regarding annual inspection reports of private banks and Non-Performing Assets (NPAs) under Right to Information Act (RTI) by making changes in its ‘disclosure policy’. The SC gave RBI one “last opportunity” to withdraw rules blocking the disclosure of inspection reports of private banks and ordered it to divulge all information sought by petitioners. “We could have taken a serious view of the continued violation but giving a last opportunity to the RBI to withdraw (disclosure) policy,” reads the Supreme Court order.
Rendering its judgment in the case, a bench head by Justice L Nageswara Rao also asked the central bank to review its policy to disclose information relating to banks under RTI, and said it was “duty bound under the law”. However, the bench didn’t go ahead with contempt proceedings against the RBI. The bench said it would have taken a serious view to the refusal of RBI to part with information under RTI. “Any further violation shall be viewed seriously,” the bench said
JK Bank under RTI law
On November 22nd 2018 , State Administrative Council (SAC) headed by Governor Satyapal Malik had brought JK Bank under the ambit of J&K RTI Act 2009 by declaring this bank a Public Authority within the meaning the RTI law. The order also brought the bank under the purview of J&K Prevention of Corruption Actwherein State Vigilance Commission and State Anti -Corruption Bureau (ACB) can take cognizance of corruption cases in JK Bank. It was because of this legal provision that ACB conducted raids on the bank’s corporate office in Srinagar recently which otherwise in past was not their mandate. Due to obvious reasons JK Bank’s ousted Chairman Parvez Ahmad and many of his close officers in the bank were reluctant to implement RTI act in the bank and Government also showed lukewarm response from its side. When the copy of SAC decision was sought under RTI Act by me from Raj Bhavan Jammu in February this year , the same was denied and instead Governor’s office (designated PIO under RTI Act) forwarded my RTI application along with few more applications to General Administration Department (GAD) and Finance Department by invoking section 6 (3) of J&K RTI Act 2009 . This section is to be invoked provided information is not available in the office where the RTI application has been filed ? How is it possible that SAC decision taken on November 22nd 2018 was not available in Raj Bhavan ? Both GAD and Finance department also denied to share the copy of the SAC decision vis a vis JK Bank which otherwise is a public document and should have been made available on GAD and Finance Department websites. In addition to top management of JK Bank , the some trade union leaders in the bank were also reluctant to ensure transparency and accountability in bank. It was at their behest that employees of the bank came out in protest against SAC decision of Nov 22nd 2018. When the Mr Parvez Ahmad was sacked by Government, the trade union particularly the officers association chose to remain silent and not even issued a statement. If SAC decision taken against JK Bank was arbitrary 8 months back, how do they justify the action taken by Government now ? ACB must go deep into this during their course of investigation.
J&K Right to Information Movement (RTIM) has appealed newly appointed interim Chairman& MD of J&K Bank to implement Right to Information Act 2009 (JK RTI Act 2009) in letter and spirit across all the business units of the bank. We have suggested that all the branch heads of JK Bank be designated as Public Information Officers (PIOs) and Cluster heads as First Appellate Authorities (FAAs) as mandated under State RTI Act so that people can have easy access to information. If JK bank needs our technical assistance at any point of time we are ready to provide the same. We welcome the decision of Government to order for an inquiry into alleged backdoor appointments and other financial irregularities in the bank. As RTI Movement’s stand on JK Bank has been vindicated by Government by sacking Mr Parvez Ahmad and conducting raids on the bank’s corporate office, I request JK Bank Chairman Mr R K Chibberto take back all the defamation cases filedby JK Bank against some journalists and activists which includes me as well. Lastly Governor Satyapal Malik also needs to explain why Government remained silent for last 8 months and kept the SAC order dated Nov 22nd 2018 on JK Bank in deep freezer without implementing the same. Had the said order been implemented, things would have been altogether different today….
(The author is Founder and Chairman of JK RTI Movement)
Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat