New Delhi: The Central Information Commission has instructed Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) to suo motu disclose all information relating to the deliberations of the Special Committee constituted under the Chairmanship of Justice R.M. Lodha, the former Chief Justice of India, in hard copy and publish the same on the notice board at the office of the District Magistrate within 15 days from the date of receipt of this order in Hindi Language.
SEBI also has been directed to periodically publish all information relating to the deliberations held at the Committee Meeting for the benefit of the investors involved.
Ramesh Kumar Gupta, the appellant through his RTI application filed on 13 April 2017 had sought information on five points regarding the details of the Companies along with the names of their directors, permanent addresses, mobile no. etc. that were involved in chit fund scams against which SEBI had initiated action, action taken by the SEBI against M/s. PACL Limited Company with respect to return of funds invested by the investors, details of investors with their amounts invested in PACL Limited and other related issues.
The Center Public Information Officers(CPIO) of SEBI, through a letter on 21 April 2017 had responded to the points raised by the appellant that the orders passed by SEBI in the matter of M/s PACL Ltd. was available on their website under the heading “Orders & Rulings – Orders–Orders of Chairman/Members”. It was further informed that on 2 February 2016, the Supreme Court had constituted a Special Committee under the Chairmanship of Justice R. M. Lodha for disposing off the land purchased by the Company (M/s. PACL) and that the sale proceeds could be paid to the investors, who had invested their funds in the Company for purchase of land. Dissatisfied by the response, the Appellant had approached the FAA. The First Appellate Authority (FAA), through its order issued on 9 June 2017 had upheld the CPIOs response.
The Appellant reiterated before the Central Information Commission that the desired information had not been provided to him. Explaining that the matter pertained to the larger public interest of the Farmers, Labourers, Small Investors and other common citizens, allegedly allegedly duped by a Company (M/s PACL), the Appellant submitted that all the information relating to the decisions of the Special Committee constituted under the Chairmanship of Justice R.M. Lodha should be proactively disclosed and made easily accessible to the common citizens who did not have access to internet or other electronic modes of accessing information.
SEBI responded by reiterating the response of the CPIO and FAA and stated that the orders passed by SEBI as well as the deliberations of the Special Committee constituted under the Chairmanship of Justice R. M. Lodha, former Chief Justice of India were already available on their website which could be accessed through the links mentioned in the reply to the RTI application. During the hearing it was also informed that a refund was provided to approximately 1,00,000 investors out of the sale proceeds of the land purchased by the Company and that claims of remaining investors were under scrutiny. On being queried if the details of refunds granted were published and made easily accessible to citizens at Mirzapur by way of publication of hard copy of relevant documents, no satisfactory response was offered by the Respondent.
The Commission, in its order issued by Information Commissioner Bimal Julka on 30 November 2018 has observed “a voluntary disclosure of all information that ought to be displayed in the public domain should be the rule and members of public who having to seek information should be an exception. An open government, which is the cherished objective of the RTI Act, can be realised only if all public offices comply with proactive disclosure norms. Section 4(2) of the RTI Act mandates every public authority to provide as much information suo-motu to the public at regular intervals through various means of communications, including the Internet, so that the public need not resort to the use of RTI Act.”