The seventh and final hearing of the case ‘ Neeraj Sharma Vs National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI)’ was heard by a Central Information Commission(CIC) bench. The case was filed by Sharma questioning whether NPCI’s is a public authority.
For the unaware, back in 2016, Sharma had petitioned with CIC that while the NPCI was not formed by the parliament, or by a central/state government, the authority is owned, controlled and substantially financed directly or indirectly by funds provided by the central government and should come under the ambit of Right to Information (RTI) Act.
In his complaint to CIC, Sharma had contended that public sector banks hold majority stake of 57% in NPCI and make up most of the board members. The board also includes a nominee director appointed by RBI itself.
Even the audit of NPCI is conducted by CAG, the public auditor which is responsible for the audits of government department and companies. The majority of public holding and the pervasive control by the government should render NPCI as a public entity- argued Sharma’s lawyers.
Further adding that RBI exercises regulatory as well as pervasive control over the day-to-day functioning of NPCI. When the NPCI was formed back in 2008, then RBI chief general manager AS Hota was deputed to be appointed as the MD, and later the CEO of NPCI.
Sharma also stated that NPCI performs regulatory functions on behalf of RBI and operates several services including UPI, RuPay, BHIM, IMPS and National Financial Switch.
Sharma’s lawyer Nikhil Borwankar had argued that NPCI ‘has a de-facto monopoly over payments systems in India and is not a normal Section 25 company’. Responding to petitioner’s claims, NPCI’s CEO Dilip Asbe defended that the NPCI doesn’t enjoy a monopoly over the digital payments market as it competes with 90 other platforms.
“UPI is not a monopoly. We do not agree with the point. We have taken authorisation from RBI to operate UPI as a payment system. Most of our applications are operating in a competitive environment,” asserted Asbe.
Sharma’s lawyers have argued multiple times on ground of close linkage of NPCI with RBI. They claimed that Asbe-led entity is controlled and financed by the central bank. However, Asbe cornered the claim, “No regulatory functions of the RBI were taken on by the NPCI,” he said.
While the hearing has been closed on the matter and the bench of CIC will conclude a final order soon, it would be interesting to see what CIC thinks of Asbe’s defence.
The story was first reported by Quint.