26 May 2020

Top Story

Right to Information

Regulatory disclosure and public interest

Reserve Bank of India and Ors. v. Jayantilal N. Mistry and Ors.



The Supreme Court dismissed appeals arising out of Central Information Commission’s orders requiring the Reserve Bank of India to disclose information about banks and their activities. RBI in its replies to several applications for information, under the Right to Information Act, 2005, had reserved its right to withhold such information, given that it owed a fiduciary responsibility to the banks to not divulge information that could prove embarrassing or harm the banking system. The Supreme Court considered in detail the existence of a fiduciary relationship under which the RBI claimed to be duty bound to act for the benefit of banks. It concluded the Bank to not be in such a position: the RBI was statutorily empowered to uphold public interest and not the interest of individual banks. Its duties lay in acting transparently, and not saving individual banks from embarrassing information. Almost cruelly, the Court derided RBI’s feigned holding of hands with banks as “[the] main characteristic of a fiduciary relationship is “trust and confidence”. Something RBI and the Banks lack between them.” The irony that both sides were batting for ‘public interest’ certainly cannot be lost sight of. Whereas the Respondents laid claim to public interest on account of transparency in the banking system RBI, tenuously, proffered grave risks to public economic interest. The Supreme Court signaled an end to the dilettantes, calling RBI’s position “absurd…equally misconceived and baseless”. Instead, it prioritised the RTI Act’s envisaged purpose of giving information to the general public they were entitled to.