Before he retired on 20 November, for over four months, M Sridhar Acharyulu was at the heart of a tussle between a citizen and the government of India regarding a list of wilful defaulters of bank loans amounting to several thousand crores of public money. Acharyulu, as the central information commissioner, was hearing the second appeal against the denial of a Right to Information request by Sandeep Singh Jadoun. In February, Jadoun, filed an RTI with the director general of employment and training, seeking among other things, a list of wilful defaulters of bank loans—those who are able to repay but do not—of Rs 50 crore and higher, with or without guarantees. The request also sought the names of guarantors, the details of the sanction, default and accounts associated with non-performing assets, or NPAs.
That month, instead of transferring the application to the relevant agencies such as the RBI or the finance ministry, the central public information officer for the DGEAT replied to Jadoun that the requested information was “not maintained.” Jadoun filed an appeal, but the first appellate authority upheld the CPIO’s assertion. Jadoun then filed a second appeal with the central information commission—per the procedure under the Right to Information Act—that was heard by Acharyulu.
During the appeal proceedings, Acharyulu issued three orders—one in August and two in November—in which he repeatedly directed the PMO, the finance ministry and the Reserve Bank of India to release the list of defaulters to the petitioner. In the August order, Acharyulu wrote that the list was “significant for the nation and undoubtedly every taxpaying citizen has a right to know about evasion of their money by some big business persons.” The information commissioner noted in the order that the RBI had previously authorised banks to prepare a list of wilful defaulters, and that these lists had been submitted to the RBI.
Acharyulu’s orders also referred to a 2015 Supreme Court judgment, in the case of RBI vs Jayantilal N Mistry—the RBI had appealed 11 CIC directives asking for disclosure of various pieces of information requested by citizens, such as lists of wilful defaulters, inspection reports and penalties imposed on banks. The RBI presented various arguments for not disclosing this information—for instance, it posited that it was exempt from such disclosures under Section 8 of the RTI Act. The court rejected its contentions and ruled that the RBI would have to follow the CIC’s orders.