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RBI continues to maintain secrecy; says can’t give info if FM, CEA were consulted before demonetisation

50 days after the decision to demonetise high-value currency notes of Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes were announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on November 8, the Reserve Bank of India continues to maintain
India TV Business Desk New Delhi January 01, 2017 20:54 IST
India TV Business Desk

50 days after the decision to demonetise high-value currency notes of Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes were announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on November 8, the Reserve Bank of India continues to maintain secrecy on the details behind the move. 

The RBI has rejected an RTI query seeking information on whether the views of the Chief Economic Advisor and the Finance Minister were taken before the sudden announcement, days after it rejected plea seeking reasons behind the move and refused access to the minutes of the meeting. 

The central bank feels this query cannot be answered under the Right to Information Act as it does not comes under the definition of information under the transparency law. 

The applicant wanted to know whether the "views of Chief Economic Advisor Arvind Subramaniam and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley were taken before announcement was made". 

"Query is in the nature of seeking opinion from CPIO which is not defined as information as per Section 2(f) of the RTI Act," the RBI said in response to the Right to Information query. 

The experts, however, do not believe that the information sought falls under "seeking opinion" from the CPIO. 

Asked whether the information falls under "seeking opinion" from the CPIO, AN Tiwari, former Chief Information Commissioner said, "No. It does not. It is a fact sought by an RTI applicant. The CPIO cannot say an opinion has been sought from him." 

"How it can be called seeking opinion? Whether someone was consulted or not is a matter of record. Had the question been that should views be taken then it would mean taking opinion," former Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi said, expressing surprise at the response of RBI Central Public Information Officer. 

The definition of information covers "any material in any form, including records, documents, memos, e-mails, opinions, advices, press releases, circulars, orders, logbooks, contracts, reports, papers, samples, models, data material held in any electronic form and information relating to any private body which can be accessed by a public authority under any other law for the time being in force". 

The query was also sent to the Prime Minister's Office and the Finance Ministry but it remained unanswered even after 30 days of filing of the RTI application. 

The applicant had also sought to know the designation and the names of officials who were consulted before scraping of old Rs 500 and Rs 1000 currency notes. 

"The information sought relates to sensitive matters pertaining to discontinuation/withdrawal of bank notes. The information is exempt from disclosure under Section 8(1)(a) and (g) of RTI Act," the RBI said. 

The monetary policy regulator also did not disclose if the decision to demonetise currency notes worth Rs 20 lakh crore was opposed by any official or minister, saying the information sought is "hypothetical" in nature. 

It also cited Section 8(1)(a) of the RTI Act to deny minutes of deliberations related to demonetisation.

Earlier, the apex bank refused to divulge information on the reasons behind demonetisation move. 

While rejecting an RTI plea, the RBI last month said that the reasons behind the sudden announcement cannot be made public.

The monetary policy regulator also refused to give any details about the time it will take to replenish the currency notes.

"The query is in the nature of seeking future date of an event which is not defined as information as per Section 2(f) of the RTI Act," RBI said in response to an RTI query.

The section states, "Information, disclosure of which would prejudicially affect the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security, strategic, scientific or economic interests of the State, relation with foreign State or lead to incitement of an offence." 

The RBI also refused to allow access to minutes of meetings held to decide on the issue of demonetisation of Rs 1000 and Rs 500 notes.

(With PTI inputs)