Of J&K Bank's resistance to RTI Act, its implementation finally

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It all began in 2009, when the RTI Act was implemented in Jammu and Kashmir and one Syed Nasrulla Shah filed an RTI application with the bank, seeking information about recruitment of a probationary officer.

Nasrulla was told the bank is not a public authority and therefore cannot reveal the information.

Nasrulla, who has retired as an administrator in the judiciary, said, “I was the first person to file an RTI application with the bank. When they denied information, I couldn’t file an appeal but I registered a complaint with the State Information Commission. In the meantime complaints against the Bank started pouring in from Jammu also.”

The SIC clubbed the complaints and the proceedings started.

In 2012, then Chief Information Commissioner GR Sufi and other members ruled that the bank is a public authority under the Jammu and Kashmir Right to Information Act-2009, entitling people to seek information from its administration.

Announcing the decision, the full bench of the SIC asked the then chairman J&K Bank to designate First Appellate Authority/Authorities, Public Information Officer/Officers and Assistant Public Information Officers for disposal of RTI applications.

Invoking an order of the Maharaja Hari Singh, the last monarch of the state, the SIC had said, “The creation of the J&K Bank by Maharaja Hari Singh (sovereign ruler) was a legislative act as all executive, legislative and judicial powers were lying with him.”

The commission had also said that Article 157 of the State Constitution gives protection to the orders, acts and commands of Maharaja and terms the Registration of the Bank in 1956 as necessity.

“The registration of the Bank under the Indian Companies Act, 1956 was a requirement to be fulfilled because of extension of certain Central laws like Companies Act, 1956, to the State of J&K. The answer is simple that the Bank sustained and subsisted itself on the Memorandum of the Maharaja and later on was incorporated as a company in 1956,” the order reads.

According to the Commission, there has been substantial financial control of the State Government over the financial institution.

Other grounds like sanction of Maharaja’s Government for construction of a building of J&K Bank was also shown as ground for bringing the bank under RTI Act.

The other justification cited in the order was the power of the state government to appoint three directors.

“The private directors have no authority to expel these directors who are the government nominees. It is, thus, established that a minority of directors being government nominees exercise effective and real control on behalf of the government,” the ruling stated.

The Commission had said that “CAG’s audit control cannot be dismissed merely by saying that it is a requirement under the Companies Act 1956″.

“Only the government companies are subjected to such audit. Government companies are nothing but Public Authorities established, owned, controlled by the government. The J&K Bank Ltd. may not be a ‘state’ as defined under Article 12 of the Constitution of India, but the Commission is of the considered opinion that it fulfills all the limbs of Section 2 of the State RTI Act, 2009,” the SIC said.

Not only this, the ruling said that J&K Bank Ltd has always carried out guidance/ instructions and wishes of the government whether it be overdrafts, subsidy schemes, appointment and removal of the chairman at the wish and pleasure of the government.

Despite orders by the SIC in 2012, the bank refused to come under the ambit of the RTI Act. In fact, the bank approached the High Court and got SIC order stayed.

“After that the proceedings started, but the case somehow got shifted to Jammu. The case is still in the court and the stay has not been vacated as yet,” said Nasrulla.

To “improve governance” and “bring transparency” into the system, the Governor’s administration last year decided to bring the bank under the ambit of the RTI Act, like other PSUs. It said the bank should follow Chief Vigilance Commission (CVC) guidelines and state legislature.

The bank again refused to implement the act.

However, after the government sacked the Chairman of the J&K Bank and appointed an interim Chairman, the board of directors of the J&K Bank Saturday said that the bank will implement the RTI Act-2009.

“Now the bank has decided to implement the act. The appeal they had filed before the court against the judgement that called J&K Bank as a public authority becomes infructuous. But the bank should formally inform the court that they are withdrawing the appeal because somebody might create a problem again,” said G R Sufi, former Chief Information Commissioner.