CIC warns Sebi on RTI disclosure

Order after complainant establishes false information given by it on Saran's appointment

The equity markets regulator was left red-faced before the central information watchdog after a complainant produced a letter whose existence had been denied by the former.

The Central Information Commission (CIC) has warned the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi) for giving false and misleading information to a query under the Right to Information (RTI) law.

Thane-based Ramsagar Yadav had filed an RTI application with Sebi in July 2014. Yadav requested information on three points. "(a) name of the official of Sdbi who had requested R K Padmanabhan, then chief vigilance officer, Sebi, to issue a vigilance clearance for Prashant Saran for his subsequent appointment as wholetime member in 2012; (b) designation…(of this official); and (c) copy of the forwarding letter of chairman, Sebi or of any officer of Sebi forwarding the application ofi Prashant Saran for appointment as wholetime member in 2012."

In August 2014, the chief public information officer (CPIO) of Sebi declined to give information about the first two points, saying the name and designation of the official was internal to their working, not of public interest or related to public activity. On the third point, of the copy of the letter, the CPIO said such a letter was not available with Sebi.

Dissatisfied, Yadav complained to the Commission against Sebi "on the grounds of providing incomplete and misleading information." In an order on July 23, information commissioner Manjula Parasher said, "The Commission holds that there is merit in the contention put forth by the complainant… CPIO is warned to be careful and advised to ensure that correct information is provided to RTI applicants in future."

The order said the complainant enclosed a copy of letter No.OHC/EA/6552/2012 dated 19.03.2012, forwarding the application of Saran for appointment as WTM in 2012. The letter was issued by the EA (executive assistant) to chairman, Sebi.

"On the contrary, the CPIO informed the complainant on point (c) that the information was not available with the concerned department of Sebi." It is not clear how the complainant acquired the internal letter. According to the CPIO, this point (c) of Yadav's RTI application was forwarded to Sebi's HR (human resources) department for comments, who stated they did not have information in this matter.

Recently, Sebi is said to have moved the courts to ensure that no ex parte order (issued without first hearing it) was passed in the matter of Saran's appointment. It has filed caveats in relevant courts, according to lawyers familiar with the development.

Business Standard sent mails on August 13 and September 3 to the Sebi spokesperson, seeking comments on the matters relating to Saran's appointment and the CIC order. The mails did not elicit any response.

Saran's appointment to the post for a second term had become controversial, as it coincided with a much-disputed order in the Bank of Rajasthan case in March 2012. Minority shareholders have alleged irregularities in an order passed by Saran against the erstwhile promoters of Bank of Rajasthan and have moved various for a, such as the Central Vigilance Commission and the Bombay High Court.

Business Standard, New Delhi, 7th Sept. 2015

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