22 March 2009

RTI application on SEBI transparency

Recall my previous posts about seeking information on SEBI agenda items and minutes, its denial and my appeal before the SEBI appellate authority for 'Right to Information'. Well it got decided against me. It states the following:

a) "the RTI Act does not expect the respondent to create soft copy from hard copy merely because the appellant has asked for it or for the sole purpose of making it available under the Act. I note that the appellant wants soft copy of the agenda and the minutes of several Board meetings...At times, the Agenda of a meeting runs into hundreds of pages. The conversion of the agenda and minutes of several Board meetings into soft copy would obviously divert significant resources of SEBI. Therefore I find that reliance on section 7(9) of the RTI Act is in order.

My view: It is a fantastic argument that agenda items need to be converted from hard copies into soft copies. They already exist in soft copies with the relevant departments. Even assuming we live in an age of typewriters and not computers, the original authority has not even claimed that defence. In an unusual move, the appellate authority seems to argue a case which was not even asserted by the CPIO (Central Public Information Officer) in the original application's denial. So we have an appellate authority which argues for the defendant, inserts an argument not even asserted by the defendant and get to act as judge as well ruling for the defendent. Besides the basic principal that new facts cannot be asserted for the first time in appeal, this case seems to bring forth the conflict of interest of the Appellate Authority acting as a) Board member of SEBI b) defendant raising new grounds for the first time in appeal c) judge.

b) the Appellate Authority denies my claim for web-casting of Board meetings under RTI citing some caselaw.

My view: I never asserted either a right or invoked the RTI for recommending that Board meetings be webcast. I only suggested that they do it benchmarking themselves to such practices by the US SEC. The caselaw used is therefore distracting and unnecessary.

I don't see why the Board is being so secretive about the past agendas and minutes, particularly since two days after my original application, they did put out the agenda items and minutes of the December 2008 board meeting on the SEBI website (they have not done so for subsequent meetings). Shouldn't the regulator behave like a regulator given the mandate of enforcing disclosures in companies - and try to emulate the code it distributes?

PS: Please see my appeal which I have reproduced in a previous blog 'Speaking transparency to power'. The Appellate Authority doesn't seem to have even carefully read my appeal. See also my post on the decision to put out agenda papers on the website of SEBI, which was not followed in subsequent Board meetings.

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