Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Is it the unethical business practices being adopted by State Bank of India?

PSU Banks like State Bank of India may not be lagging behind in adopting to unethical business practices.

An article titled Is State Bank of India adopting unfair trade practices- RTI reveals more than 300 crores being earned unethically from consumers was published in this blog on 9th October 2015 and Part 2 was published on 19th October 2015.

As stated earlier, there have been three appeals before three different First Appellate Authorities of State Bank of India. Accordingly three different orders were issued and surprisingly no information has been revealed obviously to hide the unfair trade practices being done by SBI. First appeal was brought out in my earlier blog as stated above. The other two First Appeal are brought herein as FA-II and FA-III. The content of the two articles may be persued which contains RTI applications and three First Appeals before three different First Appellate Authorities.

The Part 2 of the article published on 19th October 2015 concluded with:
(It is evident from the two articles on the subject that State Bank of India has made joke of RTI Act 2005. The 2nd appeal which lies before Central Information Commission has been made on 20/02/2015. The application is yet to come up for hearing. Till then a question arise as to whether RTI Act is a Myth or Reality as far as State Bank of India is concerned.)

I am now publishing the copy of my 2nd appeal before Central Information Commission, CIC order and CPIO response subsequent to the CIC order.

2nd Appeal dtd. 20/02/2015 before Central Information Commission

I have submitted an application dated 01/10/2014 under RTI Act 2005 to State Bank of India. The information being sought was in respect of SMS Alert services which are required to be issued by State Bank of India to its account holders as and when any financial transactions (both credit and debit) take place in the account of the account holders.
                As per RBI directives vide RBI Notification No. RBI/2013-14/381 DBOD No. Dir.BC.67/13.10.00/2013-14 dated 26/11/2013; the State Bank of India is required to charge the Account Holders for providing SMS Alert Services on an actual usage basis. I have an account with State Bank of India and noticed that State Bank of India has been deducting an amount of Rs. 15/- per quarter from my account irrespective of the fact whether there has been any transaction or not during the quarter. The SMS Alert Service is towards sending messages to the Account Holders as and when any financial transactions in the account take place. It implies that no message has been sent by the bank if there is no transaction. This practice is continuing despite RBI directive dated 26/11/2013. The applicant is a consumer activist and is in possession of a letter from the Department of Financial Services, Ministry of Finance vide Order No. F.No. 7/72/2014-BOA dated 14/08/2014 directing all PSU Banks to adhere to the directives of RBI Notification dtd. 26/11/2013. Deducting money form the account of the appellant despite no transaction in the account leads to believe that the directives of RBI and Ministry of Finance have still not been implemented and the State Bank of India seems to be continuing to violate RBI and Ministry of Finance directives as referred above. I am also a customer of UCO Bank and find that UCO Bank is charging the customers on the basis of Rs. 0.12/- per SMS for a transaction. These facts are being brought to the notice of Central Information Commission with a view that the appellant has a reason to believe that State Bank of India is adopting to unfair trade practices unless otherwise is substantiated through the information under RTI Act 2005 and reveal the facts to the public who might be feeling deceived by such practices. Since the deduction of amount of Rs. 15/- per quarter is through use of IT Technology it makes me feel that same practice might be adopted with all their customers. In view of the foregoing the issue of deducting money from accounts of the account holders of State Bank of India is of public interest and hence revealing of the information even if there is any efforts of SBI to take the shelter of confidentiality or trade secret for iota of the issue is utmost importance in the interest of public as the account holders numbering to the estimates of 40 to 50 million might be getting deceived by unfair trade practice of State Bank of India.

                The details of the circumstances leading to preferring 2nd Appeal before Central Information Commission are stated below:-
(i)      I had submitted RTI application dated 01/10/2014 the copy of which is attached. The application had sought information pertaining to the Point No. 1(i) to 1(xi). The application was sent to CPIO, State Bank of India, a PSU Bank and a public authority as well as me as a customer of SBI is concerned. The cause of the application dated 01/10/2014 supplied wrong information and there were new points which emerged out of CPIO response to my RTI application dated 28/08/2014.
(ii)    It seems that there have been three different authorities within SBI as far as present application dtd. 01/10/2014 is concerned and hence my application was transferred to other CPIO of the same public authority form some of the points. Having failed to receive satisfactory responses from CPIOs, my RTI application dated 01/10/2014 generated three numbers of First Appeals to their respective First Appellate Authorities as those CPIO could not supply the relevant information for most of the points pertaining to their jurisdiction. It is shocking that even the 1st appeals made to all the three First Appellate Authorities failed to supply the relevant information; I have to prefer 2nd appeal before Central Information Commission. Since all the three 1st Appeals have emerged out of a single application under RTI Act 2005 and the subject matter of information is on a common subject, a combined 2nd Appeal is being preferred. I request CIC to consider these aspects.
(iii)   The points of RTI application dtd. 01/10/2014 for which either no information has been supplied or partial and unsatisfactory response are received are 1(i), 1(v), 1(vi), 1(vii), 1(viii), 1(ix), 1(x), and 1(xi).
(iv)  My submissions before the 2nd Appellate Authority in the order of three 1st Appeals are given below.

1.       FA-I: 1st Appellate Authority (Application dated 05/12/2014)- Point No. 1(1) of RTI application dtd. 01/10/2014; Point No. 1(i) of my RTI application dated 01/10/2014 requested for supply of “copy of the file noting’s and movement of my RTI application dated 28/08/2014 and any other related documents during the period it is received by the concerned CPIO and till the time it is finally disposed off.” Having not received the said copies of the documents from CPIO, the 1st Appeal dated 05/12/2014 was preferred stating at Point 5 and 6 of the said First Appeal dated 05/12/2014 was preferred stating at Point 5 and 6 of the said First Appeal dated 05/12/2014 requesting to supply me the above document including date of file noting as sought by me in RTI application dated 01/10/2014. The First Appellate Authority in its Order No. GM (NW-1)/RTI/2014-15/Appeal/167 dated 17/01/2015 stated “The CPIO in directed to provide the information sought by appellant within 10 days after receipt of this order, if available with him. The CPIOs is advised to ensure that the matters related to RTI or disposed of strictly as per the provision of the Act”. However CPIO had not supplied any document vide his response no. DZO-I/R-4/RTI/360 dated 30/01/2015 in respect to the First Appellate Authority order and further advised in his above response that the Appellate Authority for such purpose General Manager, NW-1 State Bank of India, New Delhi. This advice of CPIO after the decision of 1st Appellate Authority is in violation of RTI Act 2005 as this letter itself was in response of FAA Order No. GM (NW-1)/RTI/2014-15/Appeal/167 dated 17/01/2015 as stated in the letter itself. This amount to mislead the applicant and remaining him without any information. I request CIC to please arrange for the requisite supply of documents as per RTI application dtd. 01/10/2014 and FA dtd. 05/12/2014.
2.       FA-II: 1st Appeal dated 29/12/2014 - Point No. 1(vii), 1(viii) and 1(ix) of RTI application dtd. 01/10/2014; Point No. 1, 2, 3 and 4 of my FA dtd. 29/12/2014 refers to point No. 1 response dtd. 11/02/2015 does not provide information to the point No. 1 of my FA dtd. 29/12/2014. The necessary information as relevant to the points of RTI application dtd. 01/10/2014 may please be arranged to be provided.
a.       The First Appeal dtd. 29/12/2014 has brought out at Points No. 2 of the 1st Appeal regarding “Whether SBI is charging customers for sending the SMS informing ……………. From the customer’s account” and information expected was in the form of Yes/No as there is no other possibility of response. 1st Appellate Authority had stated “Seeking of ‘Opinion’ from the CPIO in the form of Yes/No is also not the information under the Section 2(F) of the RTI Act.” This seems to be avoiding the information as I have sought information as to whether State Bank of India is charging the customers for sending the SMS informing customers about the deduction of Rs. 15/- by State Bank of India towards SMS alert from the customer’s account. This is in no way seeking “Opinion” This is information as to whether SBI is charging customers for sending such SMS and there is definite information as to whether SBI is charging or SBI is not charging. How the 1st Appellate Authority has considered this to be an opinion? In fact do the State Bank of India is charging amount for “Opinion”? It is an act of deduction the money which either is being done or not done. I have nowhere asked for whether it should be chargeable or not chargeable which could have been termed as seeking opinion. CIC is requested to please arrange supply of the information from CPIO in the explicit form.
b.      The Point No. 3 of my First Appeal has sought the information to supply me the true copies of the complete internal note sheet and any other connected document in regard to implementation of RBI Notification No. RBI/2013-14/381 DBOD no. Dir.BC.67/13.10.00/2013-14 dated 26/11/2013. The CPIO did not supply the documents and the First Appellate Authority had not spoken about it. The RBI order is a public order, State Bank of India is a public authority, customers are getting affected and hence the internal note sheets and other connected documents for the implementation of a public order by the public authority for the public cannot be rejected on the grounds of the Section 8(1) (d) of RTI Act as stated by CPIO. The opening paragraph of my present 2nd Appeal is relevant to the point. SBI is suspected to be doing unfair trade practices amounting to Rs. 300 Crore per year in violation of RBI order and Ministry of Finance directives and these 300 Crores is being taken out of the pocket of the account holders which are of general public. The disclosure of the information is of public interest. The appellant being the account holder of the SBI has come across such unfair trade practices of SBI. The Central Information Commission is therefore requested to please arrange for the information as per the Point No. 1(viii) of RTI application and my contentions made at Point No. 3 of my First Appeal dated 29/12/2014
c.       Similarly neither the CPIO had supplied me the information of supplying me true copies of the internal note sheets and movements of an Order No. F.No.7/72/2014-BOA dtd 14/08/2014 issued by the Department of Financial Services, Ministry of Finance, Government of India nor the First Appellant Authority has responded to the appeal. The Contention made by me at Point No. b above equally applies to the present point to my 2nd Appeal.

3.       FA-III: 1st Appeal dated 22/12/2014 – point no. 1(x) and 1(xi) of RTI application dtd. 01/10/2014
a.       Point No. 1(x) and 1(xi) of my RTI application dated 01/10/2014 sought the information of rates per SMS being paid by State Bank of India to the SMS vendors and total charges paid by State Bank of India to SMS vendors for transactional messages and total amount recovered from the customers form the financial year 2013-14 and for the period from 1st April 2014 to 30th September 2014. While another CPIO has furnished the information pertaining to amount charged from the customers during the listed period, CPIO in reference had denied the information pertaining to rates being paid to vendor and the amount so paid to the vendor during the period vide its letter dated 08/12/2014 stating “information cannot be provided as they are the Third party information and information of commercial confidence trade secrets or intellectual property the disclosure of which would harm the competitive position of the Third Party which is exempted under the Section 8(1)(d) and (j) of RTI Act”.  The 1st Appeal has clearly stated that the applicant is not asking information pertaining to the Third Party. The information has been requested about the State Bank of India Seeking information regarding expenditure incurred by the State Bank of India towards sending transactional message to the SBI account holders. This is not in any way connected to the Third Party information but is connected to only information pertaining to SBI which is a public authority itself. I have no where asked the name of the vendor who is providing the service. This point has been brought out in Point No. 4 of my First Appeal dated 22/12/2014. No information has been supplied to me. CIC is requested to please arrange supply of the requisite information.
b.      The Point No. 5 of my First Appeal dated 22/12/2014 has contended point on commercial secrets as being referred by CPIO, SBI. In addition to above, SBI is not in the business and trade of providing SMS services. SBI is in the banking operation. SMS Alert service is the process in the banking services as per the mandate of RBI to shoot the SMS as and when any transaction takes place in the account. Sending SMS to the account holder is not a commercial service where one trade for the SMS. RBI vide its order dated 26/11/2013 and Ministry of Finance order dated 14/08/2014 stipulated the banks to charge account holders on an actual usage basis. The account holder has a right as to whether he is being charged on actual usage basis or on dis-proportionate basis making it as main profit center which is not the part of the trading activity. It is already stated that there has not been even a single transaction and SBI deducted Rs. 60/-. Spending no money on the SMS and charging Rs. 60/- can never be considered as actual usage basis. It means SBI IS adopting to unfair trade practice in violation of the regulations of RBI as well as devaluing Ministry of Finance directives. Since all such operations are being carried out using IT technology, such practice cannot take place against one account holder implying that all the account holders are being duped of by the suspected unfair trade practice of SBI. The revealing of the information as to how much money has been spent by SBI on the transactional message could not be refused merely on the grounds of commercial disclosure as brought out by me in the 1st Appeal and present 2nd Appeal before the Central Information Commission.

In view of the above, I seek the assistance and order of Central Information Commission in receiving:
(a)    The complete information as requested by me in RTI application dtd. 01/10/2014 and as per my First Appeals to SBI’s dated 05/12/2014, 22/12/2014 and 29/12/2014.
(b)   The appellant has spent amount of approximately Rs. 3,000/- for appeals as well as other incidental expenditure including legal fee, stationary, photocopying and postage, I shall be grateful if Hon’ble Central Information Commission pas an order for SBI to pay me Rs. 3,000/- as the information has been denied intentionally with ulterior motives, ignoring the contentions and suppressing the unethical trade practices being carried out by SBI as is evident emerging out from the very fact that SBI deducted Rs.60/- from the account despite there being no transaction. It is surprising that none of the 1st Appellate Authority or CPIOs have advised for the details of the 2nd Appellate Authority as laid down in the RTI Act 2005.

The appeal came up for hearing before Information Commissioner Ms. Manjula Prashar on 27/10/2015. However the appeal was being taken up for hearing in a manner as if the appellant was being obliged in a very casual manner and that is reflected from the content of the order. It surprised beyond imagination as to the compulsion of the Information Commissioner for writing the judgement on 26th November for an appeal heard on 27th October 2015 (exactly after a period of one month). Several orders were being brought out on their (CIC) website for the appeal heard much after 27th October 2015. Many many points discussed during the hearing have been left in the order dtd. 26th November 2015.

The order dtd. 26th Novemebr is quoted below:


1.     Shri S.K. Viarmani, vide his RTI application dated 1.10.2014, sought the copy of file notings and movement of his RTI application dated 28.8.2014 along with other  related documents till the time of its final disposal, details of nine credit and debit transactions as stated in the respondents’ letter dated 25.5.2014, details of the contents of SMS alerts, delivery report of the SMS alerts, was there any minimum limit for the amount of transaction for sending SMS alert, total charges paid by SBI to SMS vendor, etc through 11 points.
2.    The CPIO, vide his letter dated 22.10.2014, intimated that the information on point 1 had been provided vide their letter 25.9.2014 and did not provide any information on rest of the points. Dissatisfied, the appellant approached the first appellate authority. The FAA through his decision dated 17.1.2015, directed the CPIO to provide information on point 1 and advised the appellant to approach the CPIO & DGM(RTI), SBI, Corporate Centre, Mumbai for points 3 to 11 as he was satisfied with reply given in point 2.
3.    Aggrieved with the decision of the FAA, the appellant made an appeal to  the Commission stating that the response to point 1 was not relevant to what he had sought. None of the points made by him in his RTI application was responded to. Therefore, he wanted complete information as he sought.
4.    The matter was heard by the Commission. The appellant reiterated  his  request for seeking information as specifically sought in his RTI application.  The respondents stated that they had provided information as available with them and they could not provide the information on the details of rates per SMS paid to SMS vendors and total charges paid to SMS vendors for the year 2013-14 as this was third party information involving commercial confidence, trade secrets, etc. disclosure of which was exempt u/s 81d and j of the RTI Act.
5.    After hearing both the parties, the Commission directs the CPIO to:
(i)                 revisit point 1of the RTI application and reply;
(ii)               provide information/copy of instructions as available with reference to point 5, 6 and 7 of RTI application;
(iii)             give total charges paid for SMS during the year 2013-14 within 10 days of the receipt of the order of the Commission.
6.                              The Commission also advises the CPIO to ensure providing point wise information. The appeal is disposed of.

(Manjula Prasher) Information Commissioner

CPIO responded to the CIC order vide letter No. DZO-I/R-4/RTI/218 dtd. 07/01/2016 without furnishing any information. The persual of the letter will raise many question about the common understanding of simple English the most prominent being the hiding of the information for even those points for which CIC has directed State Bank of India to provide the information. It is well common saying that there is a purpose behind hiding the information and if the crucial information of public interest is kept hidden, the very suspicion leads to saying that State Bank of India is adopting to Unethical Business Practices and I feel almost all readers would agree to the contention. Since the market rates of SMS are known and could be well imagined that the SBI is generating Rs. 300 crore annually unethically, cheating the consumers.

The content of the stated letter from CPIO, State Bank of India is reproduced:

APPEAL NO. CIC/MP/A/2015/000572
With reference to the above, in this connection, we advice as under:
(1) Point 1 revisited and reply is as below:
RTI dated 28/08/2014 was received at Post Office, Post Master grade I, AGCR, Post Office New Delhi on 28/08/2014 vide number 04.They forwarded the RTI to SBI, university of Delhi Branch vide their letter No.AGCR/RTI/SK Virmani/O 17-15 On 28/08/2014 and the copy of the same was also sent to you . This RTI application was received by SBI, University of Delhi Branch on 30/08/2014. SBI Delhi University branch transferred the RTI application to Regional Manager/CPIO/SBI/Region 4, DZO I, New Delhi vide their letter No.AGM/DU/2013-14 dated 30/08/2014, as the account of Sh.Virmani pertains to Hindu College Branch Which was under the administrative control of undersigned. The information was sought from Branch Manager, Hindu College vide letter No.DZO-I/R4/RTI/40 dated 04/09/2014. The Branch has responded vide their No.BM/HC/2014-15/95 dated 15/09/2014 and finally a reply was send to the application vide letter No.DZO-I/R-4/RTI/193 DATED 25/09/2014.
(2) The reply was already provided to the Appellant by our Corporate Center Mumbai vide letter No RTI/3213 dated 18/12/2014.
(3) The reply was already provided to the Appellant by our Corporate Center Mumbai vide letter No RTI/3213 dated 18/12/2014.

(It makes me to believe that RTI Act is myth at least for State Bank of India being public authority)

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