During hearing the appellant raised interesting questions, such as: When none came from outside the colony and no member of colony has entered these two post offices, which renders services to central Government employees and Cantonment personnel, who exchanged a total notes worth Rs 99,70,000? Whether these two post offices, i.e., Pinto Park Branch and 3-wing Branches in Air Force Area, has genuine basis or documents required permitting exchange of notes?
The appellant is apprehending illegal exchange of notes through post offices in Air Force area, because of none of Central Government employee Residents or Air warriors have exchanged any notes during the period of demonetization. He is demanding a probe into this issue. Appellant requested for some time to file a detailed complaint/representation demanding probe. Then the Commission reserved its order, waiting for any further submission. Appellant requested to decide based on his earlier requests and the representation of the Residents Welfare Association and prayed for a probe.
The Commission finds merit in his apprehension and the representation of Central Government Employees Residents Welfare Association, and recognizes the need for a probe by verifying the names of the persons who exchanged old currency notes, with the names of residents and outsiders entered as available at the gate-entry register and resident members of the Association. The Commission requires the First Appellate Authority of the respondent Department of Post offices, and submit the report to the Director General of Post Office, marking a copy to Reserve Bank of India, the Ministry of Finance, and the PMO, and mark report status of action taken to the appellant under intimation to this Commission within 45 days from the date of receipt of this order, and recommends the DG of Postal Services, office of the Finance Ministry, RBI and the PMO to take appropriate action on the findings.
Full Text of the CIC Order is as follows:-
1. The appellant sought to know: a) how many persons exchanged old notes for new notes at Pinto Park branch and also in 3 Wing Branch of Post Office in Air Force area, during the period 08.11.2016 to 25.11.2016 after demonetization; b) total amount of new currency issued for the period 08.11.2016 to 01.12.2016 from both the post offices; c) how many individuals exchanged the currency notes by producing their respective ID cards for the period 08.11.2016 to 01.12.2016 and sought addresses of all such individuals. The CPIO stated that information is not available in consolidated form. The FAA replied that the information sought cannot be furnished under Section 8(1)(j) of RTI Act, 2005. The appellant filed second appeal.
2. The Commission’s Order dated 23.05.2017:
2. The record shows that the CPIO has simply rejected the information saying ‘not available in consolidated form”. The CPIO appears to have not applied his mind to the law and facts of the case. The RTI Act does not provide for rejecting the information on the pretext used by CPIO. The pubic authority is expected to add up the currency exchanged on each day to arrive at ‘how much currency’ got exchanged, and how many individuals used ID to exchange, how many not, etc. That does not amount to creation of information. The CPIO has not contended that it requires huge compilation that might disproportionately divert resources of the public authority as mentioned in Section 7(9), which says:
An information shall ordinarily be provided in the form in which it is sought unless it would disproportionately divert the resources of the public authority or would be detrimental to the safety or preservation of the record in question.
3. The CPIO did not even mention this provision. He simply said it is not available in the consolidated form, which is no defence at all. Section 7(9) allows the Public Authority not to spend too much of resources on it, but mandates to spend reasonable time and energy to consolidate information sought. What was asked in this appeal did not even require a major consolidation. It is part of their daily routine to consolidate amount exchanged at the end of day or week or month. They might have even reported to their higher authorities as to how much was exchanged. He could have at least given the copies of such reports as available. In view of this, what the CPIO said could be a falsity. His response is non-responsive, evasive, negative and also touching the line of irresponsibility. The RTI wing of public authority did not even care to make a proper representation before the Commission.
4. Surprisingly the First Appellate Authority took the ground of exception under 8(1)(j) of RTI Act, which was not raised by the CPIO, who said it was not available in consolidated form. The FAA declared it was personal information without again applying his mind to the information sought and the law on that point. Except the addresses part, no other part of RTI application is personal.
5. The Commission found in number of responses that the CPIO/Senior Superintendent did not give his name under his illegible signature, which makes it impossible to know who signed it. It is also a serious denial of information besides breach of writing ethics in public communication. The CPIO has absent in the hearing of the appeal, sent an officer who said she did not deal with this RTI application.
6. How much of money was transacted during the days of demonetization is the information query, that of larger public interest because that policy decision of the Union Government has huge impact on each and every person’s life in the country. The exchange occurred in Air Force Area post offices might have assumed more significance. The Reserve Bank of India explained the public impact of the demonetization in an official report “Macroeconomic Impact of Demonetisation: A Preliminary Assessment” dated March 10, 2017, as follows:
Demonetisation announced on November 8, 2016 was aimed at addressing corruption, black money, counterfeit currency and terror financing. Although demonetisation holds huge potential benefits in the medium to long-term, given the scale of operation, it was expected to cause transient disruption in economic activity. The analysis in this paper suggests that demonetisation has impacted various sectors of the economy in varying degrees; however, in the affected sectors, the adverse impact was transient and felt mainly in November and December 2016. The impact moderated significantly in January 2017 and dissipated by and large by mid-February, reflecting the fast pace of remonetisation. The latest CSO estimates suggest that the impact of demonetisation on GVA growth was modest. Currency squeeze due to demonetisation along with seasonal factors pushed food inflation significantly down but has not had much impact on inflation excluding food and fuel. A surge in deposits led to a sharp expansion in the consolidated balance sheet of scheduled commercial banks and created large surplus liquidity conditions. These were managed by the Reserve Bank of India through a mix of conventional and unconventional policy instruments. There has not been any significant impact on the external sector. There has been a sharp increase in the number of accounts under the Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana and the deposits in such accounts have also surged. Financial re-intermediation may have received a boost following demonetisation. An important consequence of demonetisation has been the sharp increase in the use of digital transactions.
7. A management study group commented as follows:
The Indian Economy which was billed as the “fastest growing major economy” in the world and the “only bright spot” among Emerging Markets seems to have slowed down even before the latest “shock therapy” of “demonetization”. Indeed, the recently released growth figures from the CSO or the Central Statistical Office considered to be the official department that releases projected, and actual growth figures (apart from the RBI or the Reserve Bank of India and the Finance Ministry) hints at a slowdown in the Indian economy even during the quarter before demonetization happened.
While this is indeed cause for concern with projected growth figures revised downwards from 7.6 % to 7.1% for the financial year ending March 2017, what is cause for greater worry and even alarm is the view among some economists including the former Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh (who is a reputed economist in his own right) that the current and ongoing attempt to flush out black money would shave a good 2% of the GDP or the Gross Domestic Product.
Indeed, some think tanks and research institutes such as Ambit Research have given even more dire assessments with their projections of growth figures tending to be in the less than 3% range. Of course, the consensus view among many economists is that while there would be indeed a noticeable slowdown in the economy for a “quarter or two”, most of them seem to agree that growth would indeed bounce back and the Indian economy would regain its momentum as well as turnaround with a renewed sense of vigour due to higher tax revenues.
Having said that, one must keep in mind the fact that as per the recent estimates by some economists, nearly 90% of the total cash in circulation has come back into the banking system and hence, the stated purpose of the Demonetization exercise which was to “extinguish” black money and enable the RBI to lower its liabilities thereby providing the government with a huge dividend seems to have been belied. Of course, there are some who now argue that theIndian Banking System is now “flush with cash” and this has enabled the government to “nudge” the RBI to cut rates as well as to allow banks to pass on the benefit of ample liquidity to consumers by lowering lending rates. (https://www.managementstudyguide.com/demonetization-impact- on-indian-economy.htm)
8. If someone wants to study the impact of such a significant policy, the state has a duty to facilitate dissemination of the information about demonetization. Any attempt to withhold information about demonetization will generate serious doubts about the economy. If the appellant wanted to assess the impact of demonetization in an area, why the Post Office should stop it?
9. Section 4(1) of RTI Act says:
(c) publish all relevant facts while formulating important policies or announcing the decisions which affect public;
(d) provide reasons for its administrative or quasi-judicial decisions to affected persons.
10. Perhaps, none is left out from the impact of demonetization. Every person’s economy was affected and even the beggar, rikshaw puller, push-cart seller money-less poor reeled under this stroke. If the suffering was just temporary and there will be windfalls in future, let that also be told to the people officially by each and every public authority concerned with the demonetization. It is very difficult to reconcile with the attitude of building steel-forts that could not be broken even by Bahubali, around the public affair of demonetization in a democratic nation, if governed by Rule of Law.
11. It is the duty of every public authority to spell out all relevant facts and reasons besides giving details at least in the post-demonetization period. The Post Offices of Air Force area have responsibility to respond positively to the RTI request on demonetization in that area. The CPIO should not have brushed aside this RTI request which reflected his blatant anti-transparency attitude. There is no reason for rejecting this information request. The question is how can this post office deny information on such a significant issue in such a manner? All the public authorities have a moral, constitutional, RTI-based- democratic- responsibility to explain each and every citizen who is affected by demonetization, the information, reasons, impact and remedial measures, if discovered any negative impact. All the three points of information request, a, b, c could have been provided except the addresses or names of the persons who have exchanged the currency. If there is larger public interest, even the names could not be denied. If public authorities shy away from disclosing any information related to demonetization, it will raise serious questions in the mind of general public.
12. The Commission directs Mr. D.R. Sen, SSPO, South-West Delhi, CPIO to show-cause why maximum penalty should not be imposed upon him for unlawfully rejecting the information sought and committing breach of RTI, within 21 days from the date of receipt of this order.
13. The Commission directs the respondent authority to provide the information sought: such as
a) how many persons exchanged old notes for new notes at Pinto Park branch and also in 3 Wing Branch of Post Offices in Air Force area, during the period 08.11.2016 to 25.11.2016 after demonetization;
b) total amount of new currency issued for the period 08.11.2016 to 01.12.2016 from both the post offices;
c) how many individuals exchanged the currency notes by producing their respective ID cards for the period 08.11.2016 to 01.12.2016,
after redacting the addresses and other personal information if any, within 21 days from date of receipt of this order.
Proceedings on 4.9.2017:
2. Shri D.R. Sen, CPIO/SSPOs submitted a written explanation on 28.08.2017, which explains:
“2) The RTI application of Sh. Ram Swaroop dated 05.12.2016 was received in this office on 06.12.2016 requesting to supply the following information:-
Point 1. Number of IDs/Persons exchanged old notes for new notes at Pinto Park Post Office and AF Palam Post Office (3 Wing branch post office) in Air Force area, during the period 08.11.2016 to 25.11.2016 during demonetization.
Point 2. Total amount of new notes supplied to both the Post Offices during the period 08.11.2016 to 01.12.2016.
Point 3. List of addresses of the IDs on which the old notes were exchanged for new notes in both the Post Offices.
3) The reply was given by the undersigned as “the information sought for is not available in consolidated form” vide this office letter no. even dated 19/20.12.2016.As the desired information was available in segregated manner at both the Post Offices and it was to be consolidated for the reply to be given. The daily cash supplied to the Post Officer from Sarojini Nagar HPO is not maintained denomination wise. Hence, exact particulars of new currency supplied could not be given to the applicant, as Rs. 100, 50, 20 and 10 denominations were also included in the supplied cash to the Post Offices. Further, there was no detailed records pertaining to persons exchanged the old notes to new notes in consolidated form was available except the form (Annexure-II) along with the respective IDs at both the Post Offices.
4) First appeal was made by the applicant and the reply was given by the First Appellant Authority on 13.01.2017. Second appeal was made by the applicant on 18.01.2017 and this office received a hearing notice to be held on 18.05.2017 vide Hon’ble CIC File no. CIC/Posts/A/2017/108193 dated 09.05.2017.
5) The Hon’ble CIC decided the case vide orders dated 23.05.2017 with the directions to provide the information sought by the applicant.
6) In compliance of the above orders, the desired information was supplied to the applicant vide this office letter dated 08.06.2017 and again on 19.07.2017.”
3. The appellant submitted that he works in MES (Military Engineer Services) department. He suspects that there is something wrong with the dispensation of the new currency notes to the residents of Old Pinto Park and he claims that they are not in receipt of the monies. The officer of the respondent authority stated that they have complied with the order of the Hon’ble Commission and have provided information to the appellant on 08.06.2017 along with the names of the residents who have exchanged the notes at Sub Post Office Air Force Palam (107 nos.) and Old Pinto Park (141 nos.). The appellant submitted that the names given does not match with any resident of the locality and there colony is called Central Government Employees Residents Welfare Association. In this regard the appellant submitted a letter written by Shri Lalit Kumar Tiwari, President, Central Government Employees Residents Welfare Association, Delhi Cantt. addressed to the respondent authority with subject NON EXCHANGE OF OLD CURRENCY NOTES IN SUB POST OFFICES SITUATED IN AFS PALAM CAMP AREA AND OLD PINTO PARK AIR FORCE STATION PALAM, DELHI CANTT, it traverses as under:
“1. It has come to our notice through RTI information received vide your letter No.PG/RIA/B-II- 324/2016 dated 13.01.2017 your department was hiding the information intentionally.
2. After the CIC Order dated 23.5.2017, Department of Post, Senior Supdt of Post Office, South/West Circle, new Delhi vide his letter dated 08.6.2017 has provided the information that during 8.11.2016 to 01 Dec 2016 Accounts Office for change of currency, head Office Sarojini Nagar have delivered the following amount currency notes:-
(a) Sub Post Office, Air Force Palam Rs. 60,40,000/-
(b) Sub Post Office, old Pinto park, AFS Palam Rs. 39,30,000/-
3. In view of above it intimated that number of times residents of this Area have visited their nearby post Offices but they were told their post offices have not been issued any such currency, hence no currency to the residents/Air Warriors of this area have been exchanged.
4. In view of above you are requested to order high level inquiry in the matter to book the corrupt and indolent public servants who have been found guilty of such serious omission and commission of offence under the provision of Law. Action taken please be intimated.”
4. After receiving the information, the Appellant wrote:
With due respect I humbly submit the following few lines for your kind consideration and action please:
a. On receipt of information I was shocked that in air force palam area currency was not changed by post authority. Postal authority still not disclosed the actual address and on the bases of fake ID they have intimated that currency notes have been exchanged.
b. Sir, in this case complaint has also been made by the Central Government Employees Resident’s Welfare Association, Delhi Cantt. photo copy was handed over to you on 4.8.2017 (the text of the same was given above).
c. In view of the above you are requested to order inquiry to find out the facts by way of calling the residents of the area and the Air Force Security Officer to prove that no out-siders entry was allowed during period 8.11.2016 to 25.11.2016. Thank You, Ram Swaroop Jangid.
5. Analysing the information furnished by the post office, the appellant says that not a single name of the person who exchanged notes match with the any resident of the colony, which means outsiders came and exchanged notes during critical days of demonetization. He further said that as per the gate entries of those who came and gone into the colony, no outsider has entered the colony during those days, which means that the list of the persons who exchanged notes in these two post office must be a generated list, and the authorities should draw an inference that there could be a exchange of currency notes by manipulation of records. Appellant suspects a serious scandal is being hidden.
6. During hearing the appellant raised interesting questions, such as: When none came from outside the colony and no member of colony has entered these two post offices, which renders services to central Government employees and Cantonment personnel, who exchanged a total notes worth Rs 99,70,000? Whether these two post offices, i.e., Pinto Park Branch and 3-wing Branches in Air Force Area, has genuine basis or documents required permitting exchange of notes?
7. The appellant is apprehending illegal exchange of notes through post offices in Air Force area, because of none of Central Government employee Residents or Air warriors have exchanged any notes during the period of demonetization. He is demanding a probe into this issue. Appellant requested for some time to file a detailed complaint/representation demanding probe. Then the Commission reserved its order, waiting for any further submission. Appellant requested to decide based on his earlier requests and the representation of the Residents Welfare Association and prayed for a probe.
After the demonetization, several reports poured in revealing frauds, irregularities and wrongful exchange of currency notes.
Statement tabled on Loksabha
8. A starred question No. 28 from Sh. Nagar Rodmal and Boinapalli Shri Vinod Kumar MPs, was answered in Lok Sabha on 03.02.2017 by the Minister for Finance, regarding violation of RBI instructions. the question were:
a) whether some banks/officials were involved in carrying out irregular transactions and violated the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) instructions, creating mismanagement in banks after demonetization and if so, the details thereof, bank-wise including private sector banks,
b) whether the Government has inquired into such instances and if so, the details and the outcome thereof;
c) the action taken or proposed to be taken against the guilty banks/officials; and
d) the steps taken/being taken by the Government to avoid such type of instances in future and strengthen the banking system?
9. THE MINISTER OF FINANCE: A Statement is laid on the table of the House. Statement as referred in reply to part (a) to (d) of Lok Sabha Starred Question No. *28 for answer on 03.02.2017 regarding Violation of RBI Instructions tabled by Sh. Nagar Rodmal and Sh. B. Vinod Kumar, MPs (a) to (d):
Certain bank officials have been found involved in irregularities relating to demonetization. On the basis of prima facie involvement in the irregularities, Public Sector Banks (PSBs) are so far reported to have placed 156 officials under suspension and to have transferred 41 officials. PSBs are also reported to have filed 26 cases with Police/CBI wherever criminal cases are involved. In respect of Private Sector Banks, Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has informed that 11 employees have been placed under suspension where bank employees have been found involved in ‘irregular exchange of transaction’ of Specified Bank Note (SBN) during the phase of demonetization. RBI has further informed that the banks have initiated internal investigation and complaints have been filed with police/CBI.<br/>Whenever a complaint against a bank official(s) is received and any irregularities are found or observed on the part of Banks’ official (s), the Banks initiate action as per their extant rules and commensurate punishment is awarded to the delinquent employees based on the seriousness of the wrongdoings as per Bank’s disciplinary rules. RBI had advised the banks vide circular dated November 29, 2016 to take action to prevent / detect / contain the malpractices or wrongdoing by staff in branches exchange / deposit of SBNs. In the said circular, banks were also advised to strengthen the internal / concurrent audit process in the bank including random visits / scrutinise so as to detect and avoid any malpractice in the exchange/deposit of SBNs in the branches. Further vide RBI DBS circular Ref. No. DBS.CO.PPD/4480/11.01.005/2016-17 dated December 8, 2016 banks were advised to track the complete trail of cash movements in large quantities so as to ensure that the extant instructions of RBI are followed both in letter and spirit. Further a list of 22 action points (illustrative) also was forwarded to banks with advice to utilise their internal audit resources to monitor the position and bring any anomalies noticed to their Audit Committee of the Board so as to ensure that necessary action is taken in all such cases, apart from reporting the summary of findings to RBI.
(http://www.loksabha.nic.in/Members/QResult16.aspx?qref=46239 accessed on 15.9.2017)
Written Reply in Rajyasabha:
10. Press Information Bureau, Government of India, Ministry of Finance, issued a press note on 07-February- 2017 16:30 IST, regarding “Involvement of bank officials in money laundering during post monetization” stating:
Enforcement Directorate has intimated that bank employees have been found indulging in money laundering and other unfair practices during the phase of demonetisation and that the investigations have been initiated under the provisions of Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA), 2002 against certain bank officials of various banks during post demonetization. The act provides for attachment of property as well as prosecution of the accused involved in money laundering.
Further, as part of their staff accountability mechanisms, on the basis of prima facie involvement in irregularities relating to demonetisation, Public Sector Banks (PSBs) are so far reported to have placed 156 officials under suspension and to have transferred 41 officials. PSBs are also reported to have filed 26 cases with Police/CBI wherever criminal cases are involved. In respect of Private Sector Banks, Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has informed that 11 employees have been placed under suspension where bank employees have been found involved in ‘irregular exchange of transaction’ of Specified Bank Note (SBN) during the phase of demonetization. RBI has further informed that the banks have initiated internal investigation and complaints have been filed with police/CBI.
Whenever a complaint against a bank official(s) is received and any irregularities are found or observed on the part of Banks’ official (s), the Banks initiate action as per their extant rules and commensurate punishment is awarded to the delinquent employees based on the seriousness of the wrongdoings as per Bank’s disciplinary rules. (This was stated by Shri Santosh Kumar Gangwar, Minister of State in the Ministry of Finance in written reply to a question in Rajya Sabha, 7 th February 2017) (http://pib.nic.in/newsite/PrintRelease.aspx?relid=158174 accessed on 15.9.2017)
11. As per PTI report, the RBI on November 22, 2016, asked banks to take stern action against officials indulging in fraudulent practices while exchanging or depositing the invalid currency notes.
“It has been brought to our notice that at certain places, few bank branch officials, in connivance with some miscreants, are indulging in fraudulent practices while exchanging SBNs in cash/accepting SBN deposits into account,” said RBI. “Banks are, therefore, advised to ensure that such fraudulent practices are stopped forthwith through enhanced vigilance and take stern action against officials involved in such activities,” it added. RBI asked banks that they should ensure strict compliance with the instructions issued with regard to exchange of SBNs as also deposit of such notes into the accounts of their customers.
Earlier, the banks were asked to maintain denomination wise details of such notes and aggregate value of non-SBN note deposited in the account of each deposit or loan customer from November 9, 2016 onwards. They have to also maintain customer-wise and denomination wise record in respect of SBNs exchanged by walk-in and regular customers. Banks should also be in readiness to provide these details at short notice, RBI said. Thus the bank or organizations like post office branches performing banking duties need to follow these norms andmaintain records accordingly. (http://www.livemint.com/Industry/qNYpRaQcEA40DwkjpZhZqO/Note-exchange-RBI-warns- of-stern- action-against-bank-offici.html accessed on 15.9.2017)
12. An Express News Service report dated March 21, 2017 says:
“The CBI said Manoj Kumar, posted as director, headquarters, Khanpur, and his subordinate Sanjay Akhade were arrested following an FIR on March 7, based on a complaint by the vigilance department of the postal services. According to the vigilance complaint, the CBI said, over Rs 70 lakh was allegedly exchanged by the accused illegally at Navrangpura branch of the postal department. The CBI suspected the value of unauthorised exchange of notes might run into crores.
The CBI had registered the FIR against V K Darji, senior post master, R C Vaghela, deputy post master, posted at Navrangpura branch, and M A Sabuwala, assistant post master, treasury branch. During the investigation, the alleged role of these two was revealed”. (http://indianexpress.com/article/india/irregularities-in-exchange-of-demonetised-notes-cbi-arrests-two-postal-officials-in-gujarat-4578226/ accessed on 15.9.2017)
13. Another PTI report dated Dec.2, 2016 says:
“In a major crackdown on bank employees involved in irregularities post demonetisation, as many as 27 senior officials of various public sector banks have been suspended and six others transferred to check corrupt practices.
The suspensions comes amid reports of Income Tax authorities conducting search and seizure at many places, including one at Bengaluru where Rs 5.7 crore cash in new currency notes was recovered from two businessmen”. (http://www.deccanchronicle.com/nation/current-affairs/021216/27-senior-psu-banks-officials- suspended-for- irregularities-post- demonetisation.html accessed on 15.9.2017)
14. Yet another PTI report dated November 29, 2016 said:
“CBI has booked three postal department officials, including a senior superintendent of Post, for allegedly converting old currency notes worth Rs 36 lakh with new ones without necessary documentation post demonetisation. The agency has registered a case of criminal conspiracy along with criminal breach of trust, falsification of accounts and provisions of Prevention of Corruption Act against K Sudheer Babu, senior superintendent of Post, Hyderabad, G Revathi, sub postmaster, Himayathnagar sub-post office and G Ravi Teja, working as office assistant at office of SSPOs and unknown other public servants and private persons. It is alleged that the accused in criminal conspiracy with other public servants and private persons abused their official position to fraudulently exchange Rs 36 lakhs in old notes of Rs 500 and 1,000 denomination with the new currency notes of Rs 2,000 without genuine documents on November 12 which were meant for disbursement among genuine general public and thereby misappropriated the money”. (http://www.business-standard.com/article/current-affairs/demonetisation-effect- postal-officials- booked-for- rs-36- lakh-cash-exchange-fraud- 116112801135_1.html accessed on 15.9.2017)
16. Thus, nothing could be ruled out in these circumstances. The Commission finds merit in his apprehension and the representation of Central Government Employees Residents Welfare Association, and recognizes the need for a probe by verifying the names of the persons who exchanged old currency notes, with the names of residents and outsiders entered as available at the gate-entry register and resident members of the Association. The Commission requires the First Appellate Authority of the respondent Department of Post offices, and submit the report to the Director General of Post Office, marking a copy to Reserve Bank of India, the Ministry of Finance, and the PMO, and mark report status of action taken to the appellant under intimation to this Commission within 45 days from the date of receipt of this order, and recommends the DG of Postal Services, office of the Finance Ministry, RBI and the PMO to take appropriate action on the findings.