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UBI opens up its accounts as reported by Tarun Toswami in The Statesman, KOLKATA, 19 June 2010 Can a nationalised bank furnish bank account details and balances to an applicant under the Right to Information Act? Yes, it would seem from the conduct of city-headquartered United Bank of India. The bank disclosed account details and balances to the wife of a senior state government officer who had a dispute with her brother, and wanted information about the accounts he and his wife held with their late mother. UBI did so without so much as a by-your-leave from the principal holders in the accounts with clear “either or survivor” operational instructions. The RTI Act states that information not having any relation to public activity or interest, or which would cause unwarranted invasion of privacy cannot be disclosed unless the appellate authority is satisfied that a larger public interest justifies such disclosure. UBI’s own note on the RTI Act says, “We have our obligation of secrecy and we have to maintain the Customer’s Right to Privacy for which we are unable to disclose information about the affairs of our customers.” But none of this mattered in this case. The application under the RTI Act was made to UBI by Mrs. Srilekha Raha, wife of Mr. Atanu Raha, principal chief conservator of forests, West Bengal. She sought details of savings bank, fixed deposit and term deposit accounts held by her mother, late Khela Ghosh “singly or jointly with others” at the bank’s Mayukh Bhaban branch. Disposing of the application by his order dated 20 October 2008, the Public Information Officer of UBI gave out details of (a) two accounts held by Mr. Dipankar Ghosh (1st holder) and Mrs. Khela Ghosh (2nd holder) with either or survivor operational instructions; (b) one Term Deposit account held jointly by the same holders with the same operational instructions, and © four Term deposit accounts held by Indrani Ghosh (1st holder) and Khela Ghosh (2nd holder) with either or survivor instructions. It also furnished details and balances of two savings bank accounts, held by Dipankar Ghosh and Khela Ghosh and Indrani Ghosh and Khela Ghosh respectively. Finally, it furnished details and balances of two fixed deposit accounts in the names of Indrani Ghosh and Khela Ghosh with either or survivor instructions. Not satisfied with this response, Mrs Raha wrote to the Executive Director of the bank on 29 October 2008 seeking balances in each of the accounts. She also sought details of any accounts held by Khela Ghosh with a Sriparna Chowdhury. Within 20 days, that is on 18 November 2008, the Executive Director of the bank, as the designated appellate authority, ordered that all information on account balances be supplied to Mrs. Raha. And within three days, on 21 November 2008, the bank furnished the account balances to Mrs. Raha. However, the bank refused to supply the fresh information sought in her appeal. Mrs. Raha preferred an appeal to the Central Information Commission which by its order of 15 February 2010 asked the bank to “furnish information relating to the existence of any account in the name of late Khela Ghosh and Sriparna Chowdhury”, and this information was supplied to her on 9 March. A furious Mr. Dipankar Ghosh says, “In a family dispute, my estranged sister used RTI to obtain all information of bank accounts which I and my wife maintained with my deceased mother in order to harass me.” He said the Act had been misused by people in power in connivance with a bank which had either been gullible, or had buckled under pressure to willfully misinterpret the RTI Act. On 27 May, The Statesman sent a 12-point questionnaire to Mr. Bhaskar Sen, Chairman and Managing Director of UBI. Specifically, Mr. Sen was asked if the bank had sought consent of the principal holders of the accounts before disclosing sensitive account information; whether the Bank had followed its own Code of Conduct and the provisions of the RTI Act in doing so; whether the bank had spelt out the larger public interest that justified disclosure of individual bank accounts and their balances; whether the bank routinely gave out such details to RTI applicants; in how many cases had UBI given such balance details to RTI applicants, and whether in his view the bank was party to gross abuse of provisions of RTI in Mrs. Raha’s case. On 11 June, UBI’s legal department sent a brief reply to us. Most of the questions we had posed on the bank’s conduct were unanswered. The bank confirmed that Mrs. Raha, claiming to be the daughter of late Khela Ghosh, and enclosing documents to establish this, had sought information from the bank. UBI said: “Considering the fact that Smt. Srilekha Raha is the daughter of the deceased, late Khela Ghosh, on the basis of documents forwarded to the Bank, certain information relating to the deposit accounts of late Khela Ghosh were furnished by Principal Public Information Officer and certain information were furnished by PPIO on receipt of specific direction from the Appellate Authority.” Source : UBI opens up its accounts