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

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 andtherefore cannot reveal the information.

Nasrulla, who has retired as an administrator in thejudiciary, said, "I was the first person to file an RTI application with thebank. When they denied information, I couldn't file an appeal but I registereda complaint with the State Information Commission. In the meantime complaintsagainst 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 andother members ruled that the bank is a public authority under the Jammu andKashmir Right to Information Act-2009, entitling people to seek informationfrom its administration.

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

Invoking an order of the Maharaja Hari Singh, the lastmonarch of the state, the SIC had said, "The creation of the J&K Bank byMaharaja 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 StateConstitution gives protection to the orders, acts and commands of Maharaja andterms the Registration of the Bank in 1956 as necessity.

"The registration of the Bank under the Indian CompaniesAct, 1956 was a requirement to be fulfilled because of extension of certain Centrallaws like Companies Act, 1956, to the State of J&K. The answer is simplethat the Bank sustained and subsisted itself on the Memorandum of the Maharajaand later on was incorporated as a company in 1956," the order reads.

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

Other grounds like sanction of Maharaja's Government forconstruction of a building of J&K Bank was also shown as ground forbringing the bank under RTI Act.

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

"The private directors have no authority to expel thesedirectors who are the government nominees. It is, thus, established that aminority of directors being government nominees exercise effective and realcontrol on behalf of the government," the ruling stated.

The Commission had said that "CAG's audit control cannot bedismissed merely by saying that it is a requirement under the Companies Act1956".

"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' asdefined under Article 12 of the Constitution of India, but the Commission is ofthe considered opinion that it fulfills all the limbs of Section 2 of the StateRTI Act, 2009," the SIC said.

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

Despite orders by the SIC in 2012, the bank refused to comeunder the ambit of the RTI Act. In fact, the bank approached the High Court andgot SIC order stayed.

"After that the proceedings started, but the case somehowgot shifted to Jammu. The case is still in the court and the stay has not beenvacated as yet," said Nasrulla.

To "improve governance" and "bring transparency" into thesystem, the Governor's administration last year decided to bring the bank underthe ambit of the RTI Act, like other PSUs. It said the bank should follow ChiefVigilance Commission (CVC) guidelines and state legislature.

The bank again refused to implement the act.

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

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

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