Information Commissioner Pulls up Finance Ministry for Pleading Ignorance on Mallya Loans

Terming the ministry’s previous response as ‘vague’, the chief information commissioner ordered the application to be transferred to the concerned authority within five days.

Vijay Mallya leaves after an extradition hearing at Westminster Magistrates Court, in central London, Britain June 13, 2017. Credit: Reuters/Hannah McKay

Vijay Mallya leaves after an extradition hearing at Westminster Magistrates Court, in central London, Britain June 13, 2017. Credit: Reuters/Hannah McKay

New Delhi: The chief information commissioner has pulled up the Union ministry of finance for its reluctance to answer queries on details of loans sanctioned by different banks to liquor baron Vijay Mallya, and the guarantees given by the fugitive businessman against those loan amounts. The reply given by the chief public information officer (CPIO) of the ministry was “vague and not sustainable as per law”, chief information commissioner R.K. Mathur said.

In his order, Mathur also directed the ministry to transfer the RTI application filed by Rajiv Kumar Khare on March 16, 2016, to the public authority concerned within five days, so that the authority can respond within 30 days.

The ministry has not taken proactive action to disclose information on the matter in the last two years despite finance minister Arun Jaitley repeatedly making public statements on the Mallya affair.

Jaitley had stated in November 2016 that Mallya’s Rs 7,000 crore loan had not been waived. Subsequently, Jaitley had in February 2017 claimed in parliament that his government had not given even a single rupee to Mallya. Later that same month, during a visit to London, in an apparent reference to the liquor baron, he had also stated that the Indian government takes the issues of defaulters very seriously and could raise it with the British government

Also read: Vijay Mallya Used Freebies to Influence Officials and Politicians, Says Fraud Office

While the Union minister gave the impression that he was well aware of the details of the case, his ministry has, in its submissions before the Central Information Commission, indicated otherwise.

Mathur recorded in his order that Khare had filed his application in March 2016, barely days after Mallya had left India. Though the CPIO of the ministry had responded on April 18, 2016, the reply had not satisfied the appellant as, according to him, “no information had been provided to him”.

Subsequently, in a hearing on January 29, 2018, Khare also stated that the CPIO of the ministry had wrongly denied him information under Section 8(1)(a) and 8(1)(g) of the RTI Act. “The appellant stated that if persons like him are unable to repay loan amount, the bank takes strong action against them and even displays pictures of defaulters on the bank’s notice board. The appellant stated that the information sought by him is in larger public interest and should be provided to him.”

For its part, the ministry through the CPIO stated that the “said information is not available within the Ministry”. It “stated that the information sought by the appellant may be available with the concerned banks or Reserve Bank of India”.

However, as nearly two years have passed since Mallya fled to the UK, the CIC, terming the original reply to be “vague”, has directed that the reply be furnished within a month.

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