Raja Muzaffar Bhat, president of Jammu and Kashmir RTI movement has fought a protracted battle with the management of the Jammu and Kashmir Bank seeking transparency and accountability in working and asset management by this premier financial institution of the state.
Speaking exclusively to IANS, Bhat recalled his longstanding battle over the Bank's proclaimed exclusion from the RTI Act.
"In 2009 the J&K RTI Act came into force. Soon after an Information Commission was constituted. I approached the Information Commission regarding the legality of the Jammu and Kashmir Bank remaining outside the purview of the Act.
"The then Chief Information Commissioner G.R. Sofi delivered a detailed judgment declaring Jammu and Kashmir Bank as a public authority thereby making it obligatory that information sought under the RTI Act must be furnished by the Bank.
"In 2010 the Bank got the RTI Commission's judgment stayed by the state high court. The stay order had still not been vacated.
"On November 22, 2018 the State Administrative Council (SAC) headed by Governor Satya Pal Malik decided to bring the Bank under the RTI Act after declaring it as a public authority. State government owns 59 per cent shares of this bank.
"I wrote an article in a daily newspaper saying that after the SAC decision the Jammu and Kashmir Bank has no valid legal reason for not furnishing information about its NPAs, huge loans to business houses, management of other assets etc.
"Instead of furnishing the required information, the Bank filed a defamation suit of Rs 50 crore against me in a local court in February this year."
"In my defence I told the court that I had not named any person or any business house that had been benefited by the Bank's management," he said.
Bhat said despite facing defamation filed against him by the Bank, he relentlessly continued his pursuit to throw light on the grey areas in the Bank's functioning.
"For example, I asked the Bank that it has shown a net profit of Rs 465 crore for the fiscal ending March 31, 2019. I raised a simple question, the Bank has sold its 2.40 per cent stake in MetLife amounting to Rs 185 crore. I sought explanation as to how the sale proceeds from selling of its stake in MetLife could become a part of the Bank's net profit," the RTI activist said.
He has raised many other questions through his RTI applications which have been brushed aside by the Bank's management.
"I raised a query as to what prompted the Bank to sell 1,800 crore of its bad debt portfolio to assets reconstruction companies (ARCs) at a discount of over 40 per cent while the same borrowers reflected as bad debts by Jammu and Kashmir Bank owed money to other banks where they were making repayments without any distress sale of such debts by those banks," Bhat said alleging that there is a strong reason to believe that a huge deal of over Rs 200 crore was made by selling these debts at over 40 per cent discount to ARCs.
The RTI activist said he is satisfied with the steps being taken to bring transparency and accountability in the Jammu and Kashmir Bank, but wanted the probe into mismanagement extended beyond the tenure of the sacked Chairman Pervez Ahmed.
(Sheikh Qayoom can be contacted at email@example.com)
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