Sebi can withhold information on probe into RIL’s 2007 share short-selling case, rules CIC
The Central Information Commission has allowed Securities and Exchange Board of India to withhold the information on its probe into alleged short selling of shares by Reliance Industries Limited in 2007 saying investigation has not concluded yet. A Full Bench of the Commission comprising three retired bureaucrats — Vijai Sharma, Manjula Prasher and M A Khan Yusufi — agreed with Sebi’s contention that final orders are yet to be passed by the competent authority under the Sebi Act and there is no overriding public interest in the disclosure. “In the present case, final orders are yet to be passed by the competent authority under the SEBI Act. Therefore, the process of investigation against the RIL is still pending before SEBI and it cannot be said the same has reached its conclusion. Hence, the requested information falls under exemption under section 8(1) (h) of the Act,” the Commission said in its order.
The case related to an RTI application filed by activist Arun Agrawal who had sought to know from Sebi the inspection report regarding the purported entities involved with RIL in the alleged short sale of shares of Reliance Petroleum in November 2007. Agrawal also asked for the report of the SEBI inquiry officer with regards the matter, various applications of consent order/terms offered by RIL and the entities involved charged under Prohibition of Fraudulent and Unfair Trade Practices Regulations and other related documents. During the hearing, Agrawal said the investors need to be informed about the amount of profit made by the 12 entities who were alleged to be working for personal gains and acting as agents of RIL. “The disclosure of information would indicate that Rs 2000 crores of money minus the amount to compensate the investors will accrue to the public exchequer,” he said during the hearing.
Agrawal said once the investigation report is submitted, the subsequent action or decision on that report is not exempted under section 8(1)(h) as the action being taken cannot be considered as a “process of investigation”. SEBI claimed mere submission of the investigation report to the competent authority does not imply a completion of the investigation process. The proceedings initiated under the SEBI Act have to be concluded by the passing of an order by the competent authority.