SC: NGOs, pvt bod­ies get­ting govt funds fall within RTI Act Vol­un­tary bod­ies laud court ver­dict

‘Act En­acted To Bring Trans­parency’

The Times of India (New Delhi edition) - - Times Nation - AmitA­nand.Choud­hary @times­group.com Am­bika.Pan­dit @times­group.com

New Delhi: In a sig­nif­i­cant or­der in­tended to in­ject trans­parency and ac­count­abil­ity in func­tion­ing of NGOs and other pri­vate in­sti­tu­tions re­ceiv­ing sub­stan­tial govern­ment funds, Supreme Court on Tues­day ruled that such bod­ies fall in the am­bit of right to in­for­ma­tion law, mak­ing them li­able un­der the RTI Act.

“This Act (RTI) 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 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,” a bench of Jus­tices Deepak Gupta and Aniruddha Bose said.

The bench held that there can­not be a “hard and fast rule” to de­cide if funds pro­vided by govern­ment agen­cies amount to be be­ing called sub­stan­tial to bring them un­der the RTI Act. It said sub­stan­tial fund­ing does not mean a ma­jor por­tion or more than 50% of the bud­get of the

How­ever, some or­gan­i­sa­tions feel that the def­i­ni­tion of ‘sub­stan­tial fund­ing’ must be strictly ap­plied to only the com­po­nent of funds re­ceived from the govern­ment for a project

bod­ies con­cerned.

“An­other as­pect for de­ter­min­ing sub­stan­tial fund­ing is whether the body, au­thor­ity or NGO can carry on its ac­tiv­i­ties ef­fec­tively without get­ting money from the govern­ment. If its func­tion­ing is de­pen­dent on fi­nances of the govern­ment, there can be no doubt that it has to be termed as sub­stan­tially fi­nanced,” said Jus­tice Gupta, who wrote the judge­ment.

The court noted that very es­tab­lish­ment of an in­sti­tu­tion, if de­pen­dent on largesse of the state, would mean sub­stan­tially fi­nanced. “Merely be­cause fi­nan­cial con­tri­bu­tion of the state comes down dur­ing ac­tual fund­ing, will not by it­self mean in­di­rect fi­nance given is not to be taken into con­sid­er­a­tion”.

The ver­dict came on a batch of pe­ti­tions filed by NGOs in­clud­ing DAV Col­lege Trust and Man­age­ment So­ci­ety against de­ci­sion of high court to de­clare them as pub­lic au­thor­ity.

Full re­port on www.toi.in New Delhi: Sev­eral or­gan­i­sa­tions on Tues­day wel­comed the Supreme Court’s rul­ing that NGOs with sub­stan­tial govern­ment fund­ing are li­able to dis­close in­for­ma­tion un­der the RTI Act, call­ing it a sig­nif­i­cant step to­wards defin­ing ac­count­abil­ity of non­govern­men­tal or­gan­i­sa­tions and pri­vate bod­ies.

The Supreme Court or­der defin­ing clearly what “sub­stan­tial fund­ing” by the govern­ment im­plies is ex­pected to give a strong im­pe­tus to im­ple­men­ta­tion of RTI with re­gard to NGOs. How­ever, some or­gan­i­sa­tions feel that the def­i­ni­tion of “sub­stan­tial fund­ing” must be strictly ap­plied to only the com­po­nent of funds re­ceived from the govern­ment for a project.

Amod Kanth, founder of vol­un­tary or­gan­i­sa­tion Prayas and mem­ber-co­or­di­na­tor of Niti Aayog’s panel on civil so­ci­ety, said ac­count­abil­ity of an or­gan­i­sa­tion for a gov­er­ment-funded project is a must un­der RTI. “How­ever, it is also im­por­tant to en­sure that the pro­jects of or­gan­i­sa­tion, which are not govern­ment-funded are not brought un­der RTI scru­tiny,” he said.

Co-con­venor of Na­tional Cam­paign for Peo­ples Right to In­for­ma­tion, An­jali Bhard­waj, wel­comed the judge­ment as one that will play a sig­nif­i­cant role in en­sur­ing com­pli­ance with the RTI Act. “The SC or­der de­fines very clearly ... that sub­stan­tial fund­ing can­not be in­ter­preted as ma­jor­ity fund­ing. It is fur­ther ex­plained that not just di­rect but even in­di­rect fund­ing like land given to an or­gan­i­sa­tion for set­ting up an in­sti­tu­tion also comes un­der the purview of the RTI,” Bharad­waj said.

She said on many oc­ca­sions, or­gan­i­sa­tion used to go to courts re­fus­ing to re­ply to RTI on their in­ter­pre­ta­tion of “sub­stan­tial fund­ing”.

Now, the apex court or­der has set the record straight, she fur­ther added.

ALL FOR AC­COUNT­ABIL­ITY

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