Friday, October 18, 2013

Co operative societies Not out Of ambit of RTI

The way and timing of news appeared about supreme courts (SC) judgement ( CIVIL APPEAL NO. 9017 OF 2013)  about co operative a society (CS) is amazing. In many news papers they have published date of judgement 15 th October. Actually it was given on 7th October. At least people concerned with RTI knew about it but it was not discussed thoroughly. On 9th of October Anna Hazare and and Medha Patkar alleged about rupees 10,000 crore scam in the sale of the co-operative sugar factories purchased by the political leaders across parties in Maharashtra. After that lot of news items published in media. That stunned government as well as cooperative mafias .Then suddenly news appeared in media “Cooperatives out of bounds to RTI, rules Supreme Court”.

 If read carefully it is clear that SC has only decided about who should provide the information, and it has made clear that registrar of cooperatives (RoC) is duty bound to provide the information irrespective of whether CS is substantially financed or not. Before one draw any conclusion let us study some of the paragraphs of the said judgement.

In para 12 SC says We are in these appeals concerned only with the cooperative societies registered or deemed to be registered under the Co-operative Societies Act, which are not owned, controlled or substantially financed by the State or Central Government or formed, established or constituted by law made by Parliament or State Legislature
 It is well evident from the above para that this judgement is not applicable to only societies above mentioned. Then how one can say that due to SC judgement all societies have come out of RTI ambit.

In para 52 SC says Registrar of Cooperative Societies functioning under the Cooperative Societies Act is a public authority within the meaning of Section 2(h) of the Act. As a public authority, Registrar of Co-operative Societies has been conferred with lot of statutory powers under the respective Act under which he is functioning. He is also duty bound to comply with the obligations under the RTI Act and furnish information to a citizen under the RTI Act. Information which he is expected to provide is the information enumerated in Section 2(f) of the RTI Act subject to the limitations provided under Section 8 of the Act. Registrar can also, to the extent law permits, gather information from a Society, on which he has supervisory or administrative control under the Cooperative Societies Act. Consequently, apart from the information as is available to him, under Section 2(f), he can also gather those information from the Society, to the extent permitted by law. Registrar is also not obliged to disclose those information if those information fall under Section 8(1)(j) of the Act. No provision has been brought to our knowledge indicating that, under the Cooperative Societies Act, a Registrar can call for the details of the bank accounts maintained by the citizens or members in a cooperative bank. Only those information which a Registrar of Cooperative Societies can have access under the Cooperative Societies Act from a Society could be said to be the information which is “held” or “under the control of public authority”. Even those information, Registrar, as already indicated, is not legally obliged to provide if those information falls under the exempted category mentioned in Section 8(j) of the Act. Apart from the Registrar of Co-operative Societies, there may be other public authorities who can access information from a Cooperative Bank of a private account maintained by a member of Society under law, in the event of which, in a given situation, the society will have to part with that information. But the demand should have statutory backing.

It is clear from above para that whatever information RoC has and can gather from cooperative societies, he /she is duty bound to furnish it to applicant under RTI act , irrespective of that society is substantially financed or not. The only binding on RoC is to take into consideration section 8 of the RTI act . However that burden was already there.

In para 53 SC says , Consequently, an information which has been sought for relates to personal information, the disclosure of which has no relationship to any public activity or interest or which would cause unwarranted invasion of the privacy of the individual, the Registrar of Cooperative Societies, even if he has got that information, is not bound to furnish the same to an applicant, unless he is satisfied that the larger public interest justifies the disclosure of such information, that too, for reasons to be recorded in writing.

From reading of above para it is well clear that SC has sais that even if information is personal one if there is larger public interest RoC may provide that to applicant.

In para 40 SC says The burden to show that a body is owned, controlled or substantially financed or that a non-government organization is substantially financed directly or indirectly by the funds provided by the appropriate Government is on the applicant who seeks information or the appropriate Government and can be examined by the State Public Information Officer, State Chief Information Officer, State Chief Information Commission, Central Public Information Officer etc., when the question comes up for consideration. A body or NGO is also free to establish that it is not owned, controlled or substantially financed directly or indirectly by the appropriate Government.

And in para 41 SC says Powers have been conferred on the Central Information Commissioner or the State Information Commissioner under Section 18 of the Act to inquire into any complaint received from any person and the reason for the refusal to access to any information requested from a body owned, controlled or substantially financed, or a non-government organization substantially financed directly or indirectly by the funds provided by the appropriate Government.

From reading para 40 and 41 together one can easily draw the conclusion that if Cooperative society or NGO body owned, controlled or substantially financed then PIO, Information commission have powers to decide over that. In other words if they come to conclusion that concerned CS or NGO is owned, controlled or substantially financed directly or indirectly by the funds provided by the appropriate Government they can declare such organization a public authority. Otherwise registrar of cooperatives is duty bound to furnish the information.

In other words Supreme Court in its recent judgment has only decided about who should provide the information under RTI act , is it Registrar of co operative societies or direct societies and also answered that  RoC is duty bound to supply the information in case CS is not substantially financed or ask society to appoint PIO if satisfied .

1 comment:

  1. You have done a well reasoned assessment of the SC Order, you deserve the d. Ue complements, however, Section 2(h) also says that the information an public authority can excess from a private body". So like any other private body, co-operative societies are also be embroiled to get the information.