Sharad Phadke, a septuagenarian from Pune, has been fighting a case against a public sector bank since January 2010 over a failed automated teller machine (ATM) transaction. While he has already received the penalty for the failed transaction, Phadke is continuing the fight on behalf of others who may also face a similar situation.
His tool? The Right To Information (RTI) Act.
Shailesh Gandhi, RTI activist and former Central Information Commissioner, says the trick to using RTI is knowing what information you could seek. "It isn't a citizen's right to seek a clarification using RTI. You can only ask for information on what already exists on record," he says.
For instance, if your tax refund has been delayed (one of the most common issues for which individuals use RTI), your RTI application should not ask why it has been so. In this case the reply would only say there is nothing on record explaining this. Instead, your application should ask what the progress of your tax refund application is and mention the details of your ward/circle. Then, the public information officer (PIO) is bound to furnish the details of your application, since the records are available. Similarly, if facing a problem with your bank, first lodge a complaint with the banking ombudsman and if no action is taken, file an RTI asking the ombudsman for details on the action taken against your complaint. The ombudsman, who comes under the purview of the RTI Act, would have to seek the details on your complaint from your bank.
All government institutions fall under the purview of the RTI. Institutions such as the Reserve Bank of India, Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi), Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority (Irda) and public sector banks have PIOs. But a private bank or a private company isn't obliged to have a PIO. So, if you have an unresolved complaint against a private sector bank, first file a complaint with the banking ombudsman; then, file an RTI application seeking the status of your complaint. This would ensure you get a response from the ombudsman, who would have to ask the bank for details of the complaint.
"Issues related to tax refund or tax deducted at source (TDS) are some common issues for which individuals take recourse of the RTI Act. Usually, filing RTI application prompts the official concerned to act and the issue is resolved," says Gandhi.
You could also use RTI for issues related to stock market transactions, in which case you should first file a complaint with Sebi, or for insurance related matters, for which the complaint has to be filed with Irda.
While filing an RTI application, ensure you file it at the right office. For instance, if you have a problem at a bank branch, file the RTI application with the branch, instead of the head office.
How RTI helped Phadke
In October 2009, Phadke withdrew Rs 1,000 from an ATM. After the transaction failed, he withdrew the money again. This time, it was successful. However, his account showed two debit transactions. Though he lodged two complaints with the bank by January 2010, he didn't receive any response.
Phadke chanced upon a Reserve Bank of India (RBI) circular that said that in case of a failed ATM transaction, the bank should refund the money by 12 days or pay a penalty of Rs 100 a day from the day of receiving the complaint. This penalty should be paid directly to the customer's account, without the customer asking for it, the circular said. When Phadke showed this circular to the branch manager, he immediately got Rs 1,000 against the failed transaction. Subsequently, he filed an RTI application with the details of the RBI circular, following which the bank paid him Rs 6,500, the penalty for the delayed payment for the failed transaction.
Since then, Phadke has filed a series of applications with the bank, asking, "How many customers aren't paid?" Though the bank wasn't very forthcoming, Phadke secured information that showed about 1,100 people had to be paid Rs 80 lakh as compensation. He was able to establish this based on the records given by the bank pertaining to the date of the complaint, the complaint number and the date on which the complaint was resolved. A year ago, he moved court to get a First Information Report registered against the bank. The matter is yet to be resolved. Using RTI, Phadke secured similar information from three banks that hadn't paid compensation to customers. He says the amount runs into crores of rupees. "Through RTI, you can solve many regular banking problems such as double deduction of TDS, TDS not deposited in your income tax account, wrong interest charged on your loan account and even internet fraud on your debit or credit cards," says Phadke.
Procedure for filing RTI
The procedure for filing an RTI is simple. You could file an application on any paper and send a fee of Rs 10 by money order. Or, you could file the complaint and affix a court fee stamp of Rs 10 on the application, though you would have to spend more than Rs 10 as postal or courier charges. The fee for providing information is Rs 2 a page.
Under Section 8 of the RTI Act, there are 10 exemptions---information that would affect the sovereignty and integrity of the country, that which is forbidden to be published by a court of law, information that would lead to a breach of privilege of Parliament or the legislature, etc.
If a PIO doesn't respond within 30 days, you could appeal to an appellate authority, usually an official in the same department, though at a senior level (the first appellate authority). The authority has to give a decision in 30 days. If this, too, doesn't work, you could appeal to the state or central information commissioner. If you don't get a response within 30 days, it is deemed refusal without reason. This means if you opt for an appeal, the PIO has to justify why the information was refused. The RTI Act provides for a penalty for delay at the PIO level at Rs 250 per delay, or for mala fide denial of information, or for false information.
- Sharad Phadke (above) files a complaint with a bank about a failed ATM transaction in October 2009
- He files another complaint with the bank in December 2009
- He visits the bank in person and shows the RBI circular, following which he gets a refund of his failed transaction
- He then files another complaint asking for compensation in February and follows it with an RTI application
- By the end of February, the bank pays him Rs 6,500 as compensation