What if you wanted to know how much money Mukesh Ambani, India’s richest man, has in his account?
An interesting legal battle is on in the Supreme Court over citizen’ right to information on borrowings and bank balances of the likes of Ambani, Tata and Birla. The case is about the apex court’s judgment that pertains to RTI access to such confidential banking data.
In essence, banks are asking the court whether or not should the public have a right to find out about account balances of rich people.
A bench headed by Justice L N Rao has rejected the recall applications for now. The matter is set for further hearing this Thursday.
Banks are putting forward before the court that its judgment will have the effect of exposing key future business plans that industrial houses laboriously stitch up and assiduously guard, and for which they seek loans.
Solicitor general Tushar Mehta is appearing for the State Bank of India and senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi is representing HDFC Bank in the case.
Details of personal bank accounts, transactions and other such banking operations are by nature confidential, the court has been told. According to a ToI report, it has been argued before the court that its judgment will “seriously jeopardise the confidential clauses applicable to the banking operations under various statutes.”
The basis of this argument is that making such confidential information public would fly in the face of established procedures and betray the trust that account holders place on a bank.
Equally importantly, such an action would also expose a company’s future business strategies to rival companies, who can just file an RTI application and get their hands on whatever information they want, the court has been told.
Banks are bound by law to maintain confidentiality, and revealing key info would constitute a serious breach of that, Solicitor general Mehta has argued.
Earlier this month, the SC refused an interim stay on an RBI directive for PNB to divulge information under RTI. These information include defaulters list and internal inspection reports.
The latest case comes a couple of months after a concerted push by some major Indian banks against another related matter. In April this year, a bench had rejected a plea by HDFC Bank, SBI and others seeking recall of a six-year-old SC ruling that asked RBI to supply info on functioning of banks under RTI.
The six-year-old verdict pertained to the widely-known 2015 SC ruling in the Jayantilal N Mistry case that “RBI will have to provide information about banks and financial institutions (FIs) regulated by it under the transparency law.”
It may be mentioned here that the RTI Act gives RBI’s information officer the power to seek information from banks on behalf of those who want such data.
Many banks and financial entities such as Canara Bank, Bank of Baroda, UCO Bank and Kotak Mahindra Bank had pushed for recalling the 2015 judgment on the ground that the verdict has far-reaching consequences that directly and substantially affect them.