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Supreme Court, NGOs and RTI

  Jun 08, 2020

Supreme Court, NGOs and RTI

Supreme Court, NGOs and RTI

What was the Supreme Court ruling about NGOs being a public authority?

Supreme  court said that Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) receiving substantial financing from the government are bound to give information to the public under the Right to Information (RTI) Act because they are a public authority under the provisions of the Act .Institutions like schools, colleges and hospitals which receive substantial aid from the government both directly or indirectly in the form of land at discounted rate are also bound to give information to the citizens under the RTI Act.

What was the apex court dealing with in the DAV College case?

The bench in the case (D.A.V. College Trust And Management Society vs. Director Of Public Instructions 2019), was dealing with an issue on whether NGOs substantially financed by the government fall within the ambit of ‘public authority’ under provisions of the Right to Information Act, 2005.

How does the RTI define public authority?

RTI Act defined ‘public authority’ in Section 2 (h) of the Act:

“Public authority” means any authority or body or institution of self-government established or constituted –

  • By or under the Constitution;
  • By any other law made by Parliament;
  • By any other law made by State Legislature;
  • By notification issued or order made by the appropriate Government,

and includes any –

  • Body owned, controlled or substantially financed;
  • Non- government organisation substantially financed, directly or indirectly by funds provided by the appropriate Government”.

It is clear that ‘any body’ or non-government organization which was substantially funded by government was covered by RTI as per the law. 

How did the apex court clarify on “substantial financing” aspect?

Dealing with the “substantial financing” aspect, the bench said it does not necessarily have to mean a major portion or more than 50 per cent and no hard and fast rule can be laid down in this regard. Substantial financing can be both direct or indirect. To give an example, if a land in a city is given free of cost or on heavy discount to hospitals, educational institutions or such other body, this in itself could also be substantial financing. 

What is the principle of purposive construction?

The court applied the principle of purposive construction of a statute. It is put as: “While giving a purposive interpretation, the provision should be construed in such a manner to ensure that the object of the Act is fulfilled...and find out the true meaning of the provisions as intended by the authors of the enactment.”

Experts believe that it is useful if the Supreme Court had made it easier to decide what constitutes ‘substantial finance’. That would have laid a framework, which could have been followed by all and could have led to legal certainty.