RBI Duty-Bound To Disclose Banks’ Inspection Reports Under RTI: Supreme Court

Supreme Court upholds judgment asking the RBI to disclose annual inspection reports of banks.

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) logo is displayed outside the central bank in Mumbai, India. (Photographer: Kanishka Sonthali/Bloomberg)
The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) logo is displayed outside the central bank in Mumbai, India. (Photographer: Kanishka Sonthali/Bloomberg)

The Supreme Court dismissed banks’ pleas to “recall” its 2015 judgment that directed the Reserve Bank of India to release their annual inspection reports under the Right To Information Act.

In its 2015 judgment, the Supreme Court had said the central bank has a duty to uphold the interest of public at large, the depositors, country’s economy and the banking sector.

“This court was of the opinion that the RBI has to act with transparency and not hide information that might embarrass the banks and that it is duty-bound to comply with the provisions of the act and disclose the information sought,” the top court said, citing its previous judgment

The Justice L Nageswar Rao and Justice Vineet Saran-headed bench held that there was no provision in the Supreme Court rules for a recall of the judgment. The bench added that parties should not be allowed to file applications to reopen concluded judgments of the court.

“Therefore, we are of the considered opinion that these applications are not maintainable,” the Supreme Court said, citing its stance in previous cases.

The 2015 judgment pertains to the release of annual inspection reports and other financial reports of individual banks under the RTI Act from the RBI. Jayantilal Mistry, an RTI activist, had opposed the RBI’s decision to not share these reports under the act. At the time, the Supreme Court had ordered the release of such information in a transparent manner, since it is in public interest.

In 2019, the banking regulator released a new disclosure policy for documents that can be accessed through RTI requests, which did not include annual inspection reports. The policy was challenged in the Supreme Court. Once again, the court asked the RBI to comply with the 2015 ruling.

State Bank of India, HDFC Bank Ltd. and a few others then filed a “recall petition”, stating that they were not given due hearing in the matter. Since banks would be impacted by the release of these reports, they need to be heard, the applicants had argued.

They also argued that the release of such reports would impede on their right to privacy.

“In the said judgment, this court did not consider the important aspect of violation of the right to privacy which has been held to be an intrinsic part of the right to life and personal liberty under Article 21 of the Constitution of India,” the banks had said in their petition.

“The main contention of the applicants for recall of the judgment in Jayantilal N. Mistry (supra) is that the judgment has far-reaching consequences and the applicants who are directly and substantially affected were not made parties and heard,” the Supreme Court said in its latest order.

In its order on Wednesday, the Supreme Court noted that though the information sought under the RTI Act pertained to the banks, it was the decision of the RBI which was in challenge and decided by the court.

“No effort was made by any of the applicants in the miscellaneous applications to get themselves impleaded when the transferred cases were being heard by this Court,” it said on Wednesday.

The apex court clarified that it was not ruling on the correctness of its 2015 judgment and the dismissal would not affect the rights of the applicants to seek other remedies available to them under the law.