An analysis of the RTI applications filed to the banking sector
The Right to Information Act (RTI Act) has entered the 10th year of implementation. A major study launched by RAAG-2 has shown that the transparency regime is shrinking due to neglect from the Governments, public authorities and the Information Commissions. Readers may access this report at: http://www.rti-assessment.com/raag---ces--rti-study-2011-13.html This is a worrisome development especially because, less than 1% of the citizenry is using the RTI Act every year to demand transparency and accountability across the country.
We did a rapid study of how RTI is trending in 20 public sector banks which are under the control of the Central Government. The findings are based on RTI statistics published in the Annual Reports of the Central Information Commission for the years 2012-13 and 2011-12. Comparable data for all 20 Banks is not available for earlier years. The data for 2013-14 is also not available as the CIC's Annual Report has not been released yet. Meanwhile our major findings of how RTI is trending in PSU Banks is given below (comparative table in in the attachment):
· Only three Banks, namely, Bank of Maharashtra, State Bank of India and Bank of India, in that order, witnessed a rise in the number of RTI applications received in 2012-13 as compared to 2011-12. Of these Bank of Maharashtra recorded the highest increase at a little more than 25%.
· In 17 Banks the number of requests has gone down appreciably in 2012-13 when compared with the numbers received during the previous year. The biggest decline in the number of RTI applications - more than 60% - was witnessed in UCO Bank. Union Bank of India, Central Bank of India and United Bank of India all witnessed more than 50% reduction in the number of RTI applications received in 2012-13 as compared to the figures of 2011-12.
· When juxtaposed with the number of branches of each Bank, the average number of RTI applications per Branch was the highest in Allahabad Bank, UCO Bank and Bank of Baroda at 2 per year in 2011-12. 50% of the Banks received an average of less than 1 RTI application per branch that year. This figure dwindled further in 2012-13 with no Bank receiving even 2 RTI applications per branch.
· However, the percentage of rejection of RTI applications witnessed a significant increase in 2012-13 as compared to the rate of rejection in 2011-12. The rejection rate more than doubled in Allahabad Bank, United Bank, UCO Bank and the Bank of Baroda in 2012-13. Corporation Bank which did not reject any RTI application in 2011-12, rejected more than a third of the RTI applications received in 2012-13. Rejection rates were lower in 2012-13 in the Bank of India, Indian Bank and Vijaya Bank as compared to the previous year.
· Interestingly, the size of the non-performing assets (NPAs) does not always correspond to the trend of RTI applications received or rejected by Banks. Despite having the largest volume of NPA at the end of March 2013, both State Bank of India (top NPA grosser amongst the 20 Banks) and Bank of India (3rd largest amongst the 20 Banks) witnessed a slight growth in the number of RTI applications received and a slight decline in the percentage of RTI applications rejected in 2012-13 as compared to 2011-12. However, Punjab National Bank (2nd largest NPA volume amongst the 20 Banks), Central Bank, Bank of Baroda, Union Bank of India and UCO Bank witnessed a very high rejection rate coupled with a big reduction in the number of RTI applications during the same period. Bank of Maharashtra with the smallest volume of NPAs witnessed a 25% increase in the number of RTI applications received in 2012-13 but only a little more than 2% increase in the percentage of rejection of RTI applications.
Similar RTI data for 2013-14 has not been published by the CIC as its Annual Report is under compilation. We could not find the latest NPA figures for Banks as in March 2014 on the RBI website despite our best efforts. Nevertheless on the basis of available data for the last two years the overall trend is one of reduction in the number of RTI applications coming to public sector Banks. Fewer citizens are seeking information from these Banks through the RTI route. Despite the reduction in the number of requests, most of the Banks are rejecting more and more RTI applications than before. So by no stretch of imagination can it be said that the governance and the competitiveness of public sector Banks is constrained by the RTI Act as reported by the PJ Nayak Committee appointed by the Reserve Banks of India to look into the governance of boards of Banks in India (see report on the RBI website at: http://rbidocs.rbi.org.in/rdocs/PublicationReport/Pdfs/BCF090514FR.pdf)
The Prime Minister's Jan-Dhan Yojana which is a country-wide exercise to bring millions of excluded families into the financial sector by opening bank accounts for them, creates a large clientele for banks. With inadequate preparation for dealing with such a large customer base as is being pointed out by several experts, will Banks start receiving more RTI applications in future? Time alone will tell.