It was the duty of every government department concerned with demonetisation to spell out all relevant facts and reasons behind the radical move, the Central Information Commission has observed. In what could be the first comments of the transparency panel on the lack of information about the notes ban decision, Information Commissioner Sridhar Acharyulu said any attempt to withhold information would generate serious doubts about the economy. He said the attitude of building “steel forts” around the decision needed to be done away with.
“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 demonetisation in a democratic nation, if governed by rule of law,” he said. He was referring to the 2015 blockbuster film Bahubali. The observations assume importance in the background of the Prime Minister’s Office, the Reserve Bank of India and the Finance Ministry rejecting RTI applications which sought the reasons behind the notes ban.
The move to scrap Rs 1,000 and Rs 500 currency notes was announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on November 8, 2016. Acharyulu was deciding a case of an RTI applicant, Ramswaroop, who had sought information from the post office in Pinto Park Air Force area about the total currency exchanged there, the people who exchanged it and the number of customers who provided their identification proof for exchange. The postal department claimed they did not have the information in a consolidated form.
Directing the department to disclose the information, Acharyulu also said all public authorities should reveal information about the move which has affected every citizen of the country. “All the public authorities have a moral, constitutional, RTI-based democratic responsibility to explain to each and every citizen who is affected by demonetisation, the information, reasons, impact and remedial measures, if discovered any negative impact,” he said. He said the CPIO should not have brushed aside this RTI request which reflected his blatant anti-transparency attitude.
He said each person was affected by the decision and even beggars, rikshaw pullers, push-cart sellers 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 demonetisation,” he said. He said if public authorities shy away from disclosing any information related to notes ban, it would raise serious questions in the mind of general public.