The Central Information Commission has held that records related to loans given to Adani Group cannot be disclosed as these are held by State Bank of India in fiduciary capacity and involve commercial confidence.
The order of the Commission came on a plea by one amesh Ranchordas Joshi who wanted to know from SBI "the basis of giving huge loans to industries promoted by Gautam Adani along with the evidence that the loan was connected to the coal mines of Australia".
"The CPIO informed the appellant that the information being sought was commercial information and held by them in trust for the third party, therefore, it could not be provided and denied information under section 8(1)(d)(commercial confidence) and (e)(fiduciary capacity) of the RTI Act," Information Commissioner Manjula Prasher noted in the order.
SBI claimed during the hearing before the Commission that Joshi had sought information of the Gautam Adani Group.
The Central Public Information Officer (CPIO) of State Bank of India claimed Joshi had not mentioned any larger public interest in the matter in his RTI application which was brought in at the stage of first appeal only.
According to the RTI Act, the information, which is otherwise exempted from disclosure, can be disclosed if there is larger public interest involved.
"Therefore, even though the CPIO and the FAA (First Appellate Authority) had denied information taking exemption u/s 8(1)(d) and (e) of the RTI Act, Section 8(1)(j) also became applicable in the matter as the information sought was about third party's loan account. The appellant was not present to point out any shortcoming in the decision," Prasher pointed out in the order.
The Information Commissioner said that the appellant had sought information on the basis of giving loan to the Gautam Adani Group and information regarding the proof of the loan being connected with the coal mines of Australia.
"He had not mentioned any larger public interest in the matter, let alone substantiate in his RTI application. Further he had not requested for any copies of documents while seeking information which was added in his second appeal," she said.
Prasher said Joshi had sought third party's personal information held by the bank in fiduciary capacity involving commercial confidence.
"The Commission, therefore, holds that the information sought is exempt under Section 8(1)(d), (e) and (j) of the RTI Act," the Information Commissioner said.
In what could have been one of the largest credit facilities extended by an Indian bank for an overseas project, the SBI had said that it would provide a loan of $ 1 billion (over Rs 6,000 crore) to Adani Mining, the Australian subsidiary of Adani Enterprises, for its mine project in Queensland, Indian Express had reported in November 2014.
The Adani group and the SBI had signed a memorandum of understanding which provides for a credit facility of up to $ 1 billion, subject to the detailed assessment of the company’s mine project at Carmichael, near Clermont in Western Queensland.
At the time, Adani already had borrowings of close to Rs 65,000 crore.
(With PTI inputs)