Some recent decisions by Information Commissioner Prof M Sridhar Acharyulu mention that the President and Secretary of Co-operative Housing Societies are deemed PIOs under the RTI. The Supreme Court, however, has ruled that only cooperative societies owned, controlled or funded by the state fall under RTI ambit. Let's take a look at this ever controversial and much discussed issue
CIC Decision: 21 October 2015
Ashok Sardana vs Registrar of Cooperative Societies
Right to Information (RTI) appellant Ashok Sardana had sought information regarding Nav Sansad Vihar Cooperative Group Housing Society. He wanted copy of the complete noting of case in respect of Vijay Sardana membership case, under Section 25 of Department of Registrar Co-operative Society Act (DCS).
Having received no information from the PIO and claiming non-compliance of Order from the First Appellate Authority (FAA), he approached the Central Information Commission (CIC) with his second appeal. During the hearing, Information Commissioner Prof M Sridhar Acharyulu (Madabhushi Sridhar), passed the following order which mentions the President of the co-operative housing society (CHS) as the deemed Public Information Officer (PIO).
The order states:
The Commission having heard the submissions and perused the record, directs the President of the Nav Sansad Vihar CGHS, considering him as deemed PIO under the RTI Act, to furnish the information..."within 15 days from the date of receipt of this order.
The Commission also directs the PIO/ARCS concerned and the President of the said Housing Society to be present before the Commission..."
"... In response to the above notice, the PIO, BK Puri, ARCS was present before the Commission and made submissions that they had directed the Housing Society on 1-10-2014 to provide information to the appellant. But they have not complied so far. The society is also not represented by any of its representatives as directed by the Commission in its earlier order. In view of this, the Commission directs the Secretary/deemed PIO of the Housing Society to show cause as to why maximum penalty should not be imposed on him for not complying with the Commission's order and for not furnishing the information to the appellant within the prescribed period. His explanation should reach the Commission within 21 days from the date of receipt of this order.
CIC Decision: 21 October 2015
Mohan Lal Jain vs GNCTD
Mohan Lal Jain, through his RTI application had submitted that his flat was on the top floor and the seepage coming through the roof, has to be taken care of by the Society as per rules. The CHS has not taken any action. The respondent authority summoned the President of the society on 18-6-2014 and the Society assured the Assistant Registrar of Co-operative Societies (ARCS) to attend to the Appellant's grievance. But nothing was done. In view of this the Commission directed the President of the CHS to show cause as to why maximum penalty should not be imposed on him for not furnishing the information to the appellant within the prescribed period as directed by the FAA. His explanation should reach the Commission within 21 days from the date of receipt of this order.
CIC Decision: 12 December 2014
Ramesh Hirani from Baroda filed a RTI application dated 27 August 2012 seeking information with respect to compliance of the CIC Order dated 4 May 2012, regarding his expulsion from the CHS that he was residing, that is, the Navkunj Co-operative Housing Society. The PIO, during the hearing before the Commission stated that in spite of writing four times to the Navkunj Cooperative Group Housing Society, in 2013, the said Society has not sent the files concerning the expulsion of the appellant. Hence, they replied to the appellant that unless his expulsion is approved by them, he does not stand expelled from the Society as per law.
When the Commission queried the representatives of the Registration of Co-operative Societies, as to what penal action they can take against the Society for not replying to them, they stated that they can only supersede the Management Committee of the Society under Section 37 of the DCS Act and appoint an Administrator for the same. They cannot derecognise the society. They suggested that the President or Secretary of the Management Committee of the Society should be held responsible for obstruction of the information to the appellant.
The order stated: "The Commission, therefore, holds the President/ Secretary of the Management Committee of Nav Kunj Cooperative Group Housing Society as deemed PIOs as far as the breach of Right to Information of the appellant is concerned as they refused to respond to four letters written by the Registrar of Cooperative Societies, who is the regulator. The Commission considers this as a deliberate obstruction on continuity of information to the appellant and hence the Commission issues Show Cause Notice to the President/Secretary of the Nav Kunj CGHS to explain why maximum penalty cannot be imposed against them under Section 20 of the RTI Act, considering them as deemed PIOs of the Society."
CIC Decision: 30 September 2015
BC Raana vs Registrar of Co-operative Housing Society (RCS)
Raana is a member of the Himachal Pradesh Co-operative Group Housing Society. He had, by his RTI application, sought to know the action taken by the RCS on his complaint dated 12 July 2012, against his housing society which had allegedly misappropriated Rs5 crore. Having received no information, he filed first appeal. Claiming non-furnishing of information, he approached the Commission in second appeal.
The CIC order stated that, "The RCS is under an obligation to take action against the Society based on the inquiry report. But they are silent on this and also not furnishing any information to the appellant in this regard. The Commission having heard the submissions and perused the record directs the PIO to show cause as to why penalty should not be imposed on him for not furnishing information to the appellant within the prescribed period. His explanation should reach the Commission within 21 days from the date of receipt of this order."
The Commission further directed the PIO of the Registrar of Co-operative Societies to furnish the information to the appellant within 15 days from the date of receipt of this order. (Which implies that the RCS is duty bound to get information from the relevant housing society as it comes under the RTI Act.)
According to RTI activist Vijay Kumbhar, with the enactment of the 97th amendment to the Constitution of India and its inclusion in Article 19 of the Constitution, formation of cooperative societies has become one of the fundamental rights of an Indian citizen. "Besides, they have been given the status of local self-government like rural and urban municipal bodies in Part 9 of the Constitution. Cooperative societies have thus come under the ambit of the Right to Information Act. Some recent CIC decisions show that the President and the Secretary of housing societies have been termed as Deemed PIOs," he said.
He says, "As per Section 2 (h) of the RTI Act, "public authority" means any authority or body or institution of self-government established or constituted-
(a) by or under the Constitution;
(b) by any other law made by Parliament;
(c) by any other law made by the State Legislature;
(d) by notification issued or order made by the appropriate government, and now as per Section 2
(h) (a) of RTI Act, any cooperative society has become an 'authority' or 'body' or "institution of self-government" established or constituted by or under the Constitution and hence, it comes under the ambit of the RTI Act.
According to Advocate Aruna Giri's posting in www.lawyersclubofindia.com
, "This judgement differentiates the coop societies into two categories. A Category- Cooperative societies owned or controlled or substantially financed by the State or Central Government or formed, established or constituted by law made by Parliament or State Legislature. B Category- All other cooperative societies. The Supreme Court says only the B category will not come under the RTI Act.
"I reproduce the order of the Supreme Court:
"12. We are in these appeals concerned only with the co-operative 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."
"51. We have found, on facts, that the Societies, in these appeals, are not public authorities and, hence, not legally obliged to furnish any information sought for by a citizen under the RTI Act. All the same, if there is any dispute on facts as to whether a particular Society is a public authority or not, the State Information Officer can examine the same and find out whether the Society in question satisfies the test laid in this judgment."
The links for documents:
(Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife, and also convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book "To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte" with Vinita Kamte and is the author of "The Mighty Fall".