The Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled that non-government organisations (NGOs) substantially financed, whether directly or indirectly, by the appropriate government came within the ambit of 'public authority' under Section 2(h) of the Right to Information Act, 2005.
A Division Bench, comprising Justice Deepak Gupta and Justice Aniruddha Bose, observed this while hearing pleas filed by The D.A.V. College Trust & Management Society. It had stated that it couldn't be treated as public authority.
The Bench said 'substantial' meant a large portion and substantial financing could be both direct or indirect.
The court said, "We have no doubt that the bodies and NGOs mentioned in sub-clauses (i) and (ii) in the second part of the definition are in addition to the four categories mentioned in clauses (a) to (d).
"Clauses (a) to (d) cover only those bodies, which have been established or constituted in the four manners prescribed therein. By adding an inclusive clause in the definition, Parliament intended to add two more categories, the first being in sub-clause (i), which relates to bodies which are owned, controlled or substantially financed by the appropriate Government."
Any body, owned, controlled or substantially financed by the government would be a public authority, the court said. "Therefore, we have no hesitation in holding that an NGO substantially financed, directly or indirectly, by funds provided by the appropriate government would be a public authority amenable to the provisions of the Act."
The court said the RTI Act was enacted with the purpose of bringing transparency in public dealings and probity in public life. "If NGOs or other bodies get substantial finance from the government, we find no reason why any citizen cannot ask for information to find out whether his/her money which has been given to an NGO or any other body is being used for the requisite purpose or not," the Bench said.
However, the top court has left it to the high court to decide on the D.A.V. College Trust & Management Society plea as it didn't find the education institute as NGOs.
The apex court said the high court would decide the issues whether the educational body was substantially financed or not. "The high court shall give both the parties opportunity to file documents and decide the issue in light of the law laid down by us," the apex court said.
Defining an NGO, the court said the term "appears to have been used for the first time describing an international body, which is legally constituted but non-government in nature."
"NGO is created by natural or legal entities with no participation or representation of the government," it said and added, even NGOs that were funded totally or partially by the governments essentially maintained the NGO status by excluding government representations in all their organisations.
"In some jurisprudence, they are also referred to as civil society organisations," the apex court said.
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