Seven years after pushing for transparency in the banking system through the Right To Information (RTI) Act, the Supreme Court agreed on Friday to hear a request by public and private sector banks to be exempt from disclosing financial information about non-performing assets (NPAs), trading losses, show-cause notices, and penalties.
The petitions filed by the banks are legally viable, according to a bench of justices B.R. Gavai and C.T. Ravikumar, because the banks’ only recourse for “protecting the basic rights of their clients” and their right to privacy is to approach the Supreme Court.
According to the bench, the 2015 judgment in the Jayantilal N. Mistry case “did not take into consideration the aspect of balancing the right to information and the right to privacy”, and thus, the court was duty-bound to give banks an opportunity to argue their case on merits.
“In view of the judgment of this court in Mistry’s case, the RBI is entitled to issue directions to the petitioners/banks to disclose information even with regard to the individual customers of the bank. In effect, it may adversely affect the individuals’ fundamental right to privacy,” said the court as it pointed to the 2017 nine-judge bench decision declaring privacy a fundamental right. However, the right to knowledge is also a basic right, according to the bench, emphasising that a balance must be reached when two rights are deemed to be contending with each other.
The banks’ petition is likely to be heard by the court on October 18.