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Monday, October 7, 2013

Section 2(h) of the RTI Act - Kerala Co-operative Societies Act - Not public authority- THALAPPALAM SER.COOP.BANK LTD.& ORS. Vs. STATE OF KERALA & ORS. published in judis.nic.in/supremecourt/filename=40863

Cooperative  Societies  registered  under
the Kerala Co-operative Societies Act will not fall  within  the  definition
of “public authority” as defined under Section 2(h) of the RTI Act =

whether  a  co-
operative society registered under the Kerala  Co-operative  Societies  Act,
1969 (for short “the Societies Act”) will  fall  within  the  definition  of
“public authority” under Section 2(h) of the Right to Information Act,  2005
(for short “the RTI Act”)  and  be  bound  by  the  obligations  to  provide
information sought for by a citizen under the RTI Act. =

We, therefore, hold that the Cooperative  Societies  registered  under
the Kerala Co-operative Societies Act will not fall  within  the  definition
of “public authority” as defined under Section 2(h) of the RTI Act  and  the
State Government letter dated 5.5.2006 and  the  circular  dated  01.06.2006
issued by the Registrar of Co-operative Societies, Kerala,  to  the  extent,
made applicable  to  societies  registered  under  the  Kerala  Co-operative
Societies Act would stand quashed in the absence of materials to  show  that
they are owned, controlled or  substantially  financed  by  the  appropriate
Government.  Appeals are, therefore, allowed  as  above,  however,  with  no
order as to costs.


                                                                  REPORTABLE
                        IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA

                        CIVIL APPEALLATE JURISDICTION

                       CIVIL APPEAL NO. 9017  OF 2013
                  (Arising out of SLP (C) No.24290 of 2012)

Thalappalam Ser. Coop. Bank
Ltd. and others                                    Appellants

                                   Versus

State of Kerala and others                         Respondents

                                    WITH

               CIVIL APPEAL NOs.   9020, 9029 & 9023  OF 2013
     (Arising out of SLP (C) No.24291 of 2012, 13796 and 13797 of 2013)


                               J U D G M E N T


K.S. Radhakrishnan, J.


1.    Leave granted.

2.    We are, in these appeals, concerned with the question
whether  a  co-
operative society registered under the Kerala  Co-operative  Societies  Act,
1969 (for short “the Societies Act”) will  fall  within  the  definition  of
“public authority” under Section 2(h) of the Right to Information Act,  2005
(for short “the RTI Act”)  and  be  bound  by  the  obligations  to  provide
information sought for by a citizen under the RTI Act.

3.    A Full Bench of the Kerala High Court, in  its  judgment  reported  in
AIR 2012 Ker 124, answered the question in the affirmative  and  upheld  the
Circular No.23 of 2006 dated 01.06.2006, issued by the Registrar of the  Co-
operative Societies, Kerala stating that all the  co-operative  institutions
coming under the  administrative  control  of  the  Registrar,  are  “public
authorities” within the meaning of Section 2(h) of the RTI Act  and  obliged
to provide information as sought for.  The  question  was  answered  by  the
Full Bench in view of the conflicting views expressed by  a  Division  Bench
of the Kerala High Court in Writ Appeal No.1688 of  2009,  with  an  earlier
judgment of the Division Bench reported in Thalapalam  Service  Co-operative
Bank Ltd. v.  Union of India AIR 2010 Ker 6,  wherein  the  Bench  took  the
view that the question as to whether a co-operative society will fall  under
Section 2(h) of the RTI Act is a question of fact, which  will  depend  upon
the question whether it is substantially financed, directly  or  indirectly,
by the funds provided by the State Government which, the Court held, has  to
be decided depending upon the facts situation of each case.

4.    Mr. K. Padmanabhan Nair, learned senior counsel appearing for some  of
the societies submitted that the views expressed by the  Division  Bench  in
Thalapalam Service Co-operative Bank  Ltd.  (supra)  is  the  correct  view,
which calls for our approval.  Learned senior counsel took  us  through  the
various provisions of the Societies Act as  well  as  of  the  RTI  Act  and
submitted that the societies are autonomous bodies and  merely  because  the
officers functioning under the Societies Act have  got  supervisory  control
over the societies will not make the  societies  public  authorities  within
the meaning of Section 2(h) of the RTI Act.   Learned  senior  counsel  also
submitted that these societies are not owned,  controlled  or  substantially
financed, directly or indirectly, by the State Government.   Learned  senior
counsel also submitted that the societies are not statutory bodies  and  are
not performing any public functions and will not come within the  expression
“state” within the meaning under Article 12 of the Constitution of India.

5.     Mr.  Ramesh  Babu  MR,  learned  counsel  appearing  for  the  State,
supported the reasoning of the impugned judgment and submitted that  such  a
circular was issued by the Registrar taking into  consideration  the  larger
public interest so as to promote  transparency  and  accountability  in  the
working of every co-operative society in the  State  of  Kerala.   Reference
was also made to various provisions of the Societies Act and submitted  that
those provisions would indicate that the Registrar  has  got  all  pervading
control over the societies, including audit, enquiry and inspection and  the
power to initiate surcharge  proceedings.   Power  is  also  vested  on  the
Registrar under Section 32 of the Societies Act to supersede the  management
of the society and to appoint an administrator.  This  would  indicate  that
though societies are body corporates, they are under the  statutory  control
of the Registrar of Co-operative Societies.  Learned counsel submitted  that
in such a situation they fall under  the  definition  of  “pubic  authority”
within the meaning of Section 2(h) of the  RTI  Act.    Shri  Ajay,  learned
counsel appearing for the State  Information  Commission,  stated  that  the
applicability of the RTI Act cannot  be  excluded  in  terms  of  the  clear
provision of the Act and they are to be interpreted to  achieve  the  object
and purpose of the Act.  Learned counsel submitted that at any  rate  having
regard to the definition of “information” in Section 2(f) of  the  Act,  the
access to information in  relation  to  Societies  cannot  be  denied  to  a
citizen.

Facts:


6.    We may, for  the  disposal  of  these  appeals,  refer  to  the  facts
pertaining to Mulloor Rural Co-operative Society Ltd.   In  that  case,  one
Sunil Kumar stated to have filed an application  dated  8.5.2007  under  the
RTI Act seeking  particulars  relating  to  the  bank  accounts  of  certain
members of the society, which the society did  not  provide.    Sunil  Kumar
then filed a complaint dated 6.8.2007  to  the  State  Information  Officer,
Kerala who, in turn, addressed a letter  dated  14.11.2007  to  the  Society
stating  that  application  filed  by  Sunil  Kumar  was  left   unattended.
Society, then, vide letter dated 24.11.2007 informed the applicant that  the
information sought for  is  “confidential  in  nature”  and  one  warranting
“commercial confidence”.    Further,  it  was  also  pointed  out  that  the
disclosure of the information has no relationship to any  “public  activity”
and held by the society in a “fiduciary capacity”.   Society  was,  however,
served with an order dated 16.1.2008 by the  State  Information  Commission,
Kerala, stating that the Society has violated the  mandatory  provisions  of
Section 7(1) of the RTI Act  rendering  themselves  liable  to  be  punished
under Section 20 of the Act.   State Information  Officer  is  purported  to
have relied upon a  circular  No.23/2006  dated  01.06.2006  issued  by  the
Registrar, Co-operative  Societies  bringing  in  all  societies  under  the
administrative control  of  the  Registrar  of  Co-operative  Societies,  as
“public authorities” under Section 2(h) of the RTI Act.

7.    Mulloor Co-operative Society then filed Writ Petition No.3351 of  2008
challenging the order dated 16.1.2008, which was heard by a  learned  Single
Judge of the High Court along with other writ petitions.  All the  petitions
were disposed of by a common judgment dated 03.04.2009 holding that all  co-
operative  societies  registered  under  the  Societies   Act   are   public
authorities for the purpose  of  the  RTI  Act  and  are  bound  to  act  in
conformity with the obligations in Chapter 11 of the  Act  and  amenable  to
the jurisdiction of the  State  Information  Commission.  The  Society  then
preferred Writ Appeal No.1688 of 2009.  While that appeal was  pending,  few
other appeals including  WA  No.1417  of  2009,  filed  against  the  common
judgment  of  the  learned  Single  Judge  dated  03.04.2009  came  up   for
consideration before another Division Bench of  the  High  Court  which  set
aside the judgment  of  the  learned  Single  Judge  dated  03.04.2009,  the
judgment of which is reported in AIR 2010 Ker 6.  The Bench  held  that  the
obedience to Circular No.23 dated 1.6.2006 is optional in the sense that  if
the Society feels that it satisfies the definition of Section 2(h),  it  can
appoint an  Information  Officer  under  the  RTI  Act  or  else  the  State
Information Commissioner will decide when the  matter  reaches  before  him,
after examining the question whether the Society is substantially  financed,
directly or indirectly, by the funds provided by the State Government.   The
Division Bench, therefore, held that the question whether the Society  is  a
public authority or not under Section 2(h) is a disputed  question  of  fact
which has to be resolved by the authorities under the RTI Act.


8.    Writ Appeal No.1688 of 2009 later  came  up  before  another  Division
Bench, the Bench expressed some reservations about the  views  expressed  by
the earlier Division Bench in Writ Appeal  No.1417  of  2009  and  vide  its
order dated 24.3.2011 referred the matter to a Full Bench,  to  examine  the
question whether co-operative societies registered under the  Societies  Act
are generally covered under the definition of Section 2(h) of the  RTI  Act.
The Full Bench answered the question in the  affirmative  giving  a  liberal
construction  of  the  words  “public  authority”,  bearing  in   mind   the
“transformation of law” which, according to the Full Bench,  is  to  achieve
transparency and accountability with regard to affairs of a public body.


9.    We notice, the issue  raised  in  these  appeals  is  of  considerable
importance and may have impact on similar other Societies  registered  under
the various State enactments across the country.


10.   The State of  Kerala  has  issued  a  letter  dated  5.5.2006  to  the
Registrar of Co-operative Societies, Kerala with reference to the  RTI  Act,
which led to the issuance of Circular  No.23/2006  dated  01.06.2006,  which
reads as under:

“G1/40332/05
                                        Registrar of Co-operative Societies,
                                        Thiruvananthapuram, Dated 01.06.2006

                             Circular No.23/2006

Sub: Right to Information Act, 2005- Co-operative Institutions included in
the definition of “Public Authority”

Ref: Governments Letter No.3159/P.S.1/06
      Dated 05.05.2006

According to Right to Information Act, 2005,  sub-section  (1)  and  (2)  of
Section 5 of the  Act  severy  public  authority  within  100  days  of  the
enactment of this Act designate  as  many  officers  as  public  information
officers as may be necessary to provide information  to  persons  requesting
for  information  under  the  Act.   In  this  Act  Section   2(h)   defines
institutions which come under the definition of public authority.    As  per
the reference letter the government  informed  that,  according  to  Section
2(h) of the Act all institutions formed by laws made  by  state  legislature
is a “public authority” and therefore all co-operative  institutions  coming
under the administrative control of The Registrar of co-operative  societies
are also public authorities.

In the above circumstance the following directions are issued:
1. All co-operative institutions coming under the administrative control  of
   the Registrar of co-operative societies are  “public  authorities”  under
   the Right to Information Act, 2005 (central  law  No.22  of  2005).   Co-
   operative institutions are bound to give all information to  applications
   under the RTI Act, if not given they  will  be  subjected  to  punishment
   under the Act.  For this all co-operative societies should appoint public
   information/assistant public information officers  immediately  and  this
   should be published in the government website.


2.   For   giving    information    for    applicants    government    order
   No.8026/05/government administration  department  act  and  rule  can  be
   applicable and 10 rupees can be charged as  fees  for  each  application.
   Also as per GAD Act and rule and the government  Order  No.2383/06  dated
   01.04.2006.





3. Details of Right to Information  Act  are  available  in  the  government
   website (www.kerala.gov.in..... ) or right to information gov.in )  other
   details regarding the Act are also available in the government website.


4. Hereafter application  for  information  from  co-operative  institutions
   need not be accepted by the information officers of this department.  But
   if they get such applications it should be given back showing the reasons
   or should be forwarded to the respective co-operative  institutions  with
   necessary directions and the applicant should be informed about this.  In
   this case it is directed to follow the time limit strictly.

5. It is directed that  all  joint  registrars/assistant  registrars  should
   take immediate steps to bring this  to  the  urgent  notice  of  all  co-
   operative institutions.  They should inform  to  this  office  the  steps
   taken within one week.  The Government Order No.2389/06 dated  01.04.2006
   is also enclosed.

                                                              Sd/-
                                             V. Reghunath
                            Registrar of co-operative societies (in charge)”


11.   The State Government, it is seen, vide its letter dated  5.5.2006  has
informed the Registrar of Co-operative Societies that, as per  Section  2(h)
of the Act, all institutions formed by laws made by State Legislature  is  a
“public authority” and,  therefore,  all  co-operative  institutions  coming
under the administrative control of the Registrar of Co-operative  Societies
are also public authorities.


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.



Co-operative Societies and Article 12 of the Constitution:



13.   We may first examine, whether the Co-operative Societies,  with  which
we are concerned,  will  fall  within  the  expression  “State”  within  the
meaning of Article 12 of the Constitution of India  and,  hence  subject  to
all  constitutional  limitations  as  enshrined   in   Part   III   of   the
Constitution.  This Court in U.P. State Co-operative Land  Development  Bank
Limited v. Chandra Bhan Dubey and others (1999) 1  SCC  741,  while  dealing
with the question of the maintainability of the writ  petition  against  the
U.P. State Co-operative  Development  Bank  Limited  held  the  same  as  an
instrumentality of the State and an authority mentioned  in  Article  12  of
the Constitution.   On facts, the Court noticed  that  the  control  of  the
State Government on the Bank is all pervasive and that the  affairs  of  the
Bank are controlled by the State Government though it is  functioning  as  a
co-operative society, it is an  extended  arm  of  the  State  and  thus  an
instrumentality of the State or authority as mentioned under Article  12  of
the Constitution.   In All India Sainik Schools  employees’  Association  v.
Defence Minister-cum-Chairman Board of Governors,  Sainik  Schools  Society,
New Delhi and others (1989) Supplement 1  SCC 205, this Court held that  the
Sainik School society is “State” within the meaning of  Article  12  of  the
Constitution after having found that the entire  funding  is  by  the  State
Government and by the Central Government and the overall  control  vests  in
the governmental authority and the main object of  the  society  is  to  run
schools and prepare students for the purpose feeding  the  National  Defence
Academy.

14.   This Court in Executive Committee of Vaish Degree College, Shamli  and
Others v. Lakshmi Narain and Others  (1976) 2 SCC  58,  while  dealing  with
the status of the Executive Committee of a Degree College  registered  under
the Co-operative Societies Act, held as follows:
      “10………It seems to us that before an institution  can  be  a  statutory
      body it must be created by or under the statute and owe its  existence
      to a statute.  This must be the primary thing  which  has  got  to  be
      established.  Here a distinction must be made between  an  institution
      which is not created by or under a statute but is governed by  certain
      statutory provisions for the proper maintenance and administration  of
      the institution.  There have  been  a  number  of  institutions  which
      though not created by  or  under  any  statute  have  adopted  certain
      statutory provisions, but that by  itself  is  not,  in  our  opinion,
      sufficient to clothe the institution with a statutory character……….”


15.   We can, therefore, draw a clear distinction between a  body  which  is
created by a Statute and a body which, after having come into existence,  is
governed in accordance with the provisions of a Statute.    Societies,  with
which we are concerned, fall under the later category that  is  governed  by
the Societies Act and are not statutory  bodies,  but  only  body  corporate
within the meaning of Section 9 of the  Kerala  Co-operative  Societies  Act
having perpetual succession and common seal and  hence  have  the  power  to
hold property, enter into contract, institute and defend  suites  and  other
legal proceedings and to do all things necessary for the purpose, for  which
it was constituted. Section 27 of the  Societies  Act  categorically  states
that the final authority of a society vests  in  the  general  body  of  its
members and every society is managed by the managing  committee  constituted
in terms of the bye-laws as provided under Section 28 of the Societies  Act.
 Final authority so far  as  such  types  of  Societies  are  concerned,  as
Statute says, is the general body  and  not  the  Registrar  of  Cooperative
Societies or State Government.


16.   This Court in Federal Bank Ltd. v. Sagar Thomas and Others  (2003)  10
SCC 733, held as follows:
            “32. Merely because Reserve Bank  of  India  lays  the  banking
      policy in the interest of the banking system or  in  the  interest  of
      monetary stability or sound economic growth having due regard  to  the
      interests of the depositors etc. as provided under Section 5(c)(a)  of
      the Banking Regulation Act does not mean that  the  private  companies
      carrying on the business or commercial activity of banking,  discharge
      any public function or public duty. These are all regulatory  measures
      applicable to those carrying on commercial  activity  in  banking  and
      these companies are to act according to these provisions failing which
      certain consequences follow as indicated in the Act itself. As to  the
      provision  regarding  acquisition  of  a  banking   company   by   the
      Government, it may be pointed out that any  private  property  can  be
      acquired by the Government in public interest. It is now a  judicially
      accepted norm that private interest has to  give  way  to  the  public
      interest. If a private property is acquired in public interest it does
      not mean that the party whose property is acquired  is  performing  or
      discharging any function or duty of public character though  it  would
      be so for the acquiring authority”.




17.   Societies are, of course, subject to  the  control  of  the  statutory
authorities like  Registrar,  Joint  Registrar,  the  Government,  etc.  but
cannot be said that the State exercises any direct or indirect control  over
the affairs of the society which is deep and all pervasive.  Supervisory  or
general regulation under the statute over the co-operative societies,  which
are body corporate does not render activities of the body  so  regulated  as
subject to such control of the State so as to bring it  within  the  meaning
of the “State” or instrumentality of the State.  Above  principle  has  been
approved by this Court in S.S. Rana  v.  Registrar,  Co-operative  Societies
and another (2006) 11 SCC 634.  In that case this  Court  was  dealing  with
the maintainability of the writ petition  against  the  Kangra  Central  Co-
operative Society Bank Limited, a society registered  under  the  provisions
of the Himachal Pradesh Co-operative Societies Act, 1968.   After  examining
various provisions of the H.P. Co-operative Societies Act  this  Court  held
as follows:
      “9. It is not in dispute that the Society  has  not  been  constituted
      under an Act. Its functions like any  other  cooperative  society  are
      mainly regulated in terms of the provisions  of  the  Act,  except  as
      provided in the bye-laws of the Society. The State has no say  in  the
      functions of the Society. Membership, acquisition of  shares  and  all
      other matters are governed by the bye-laws framed under the  Act.  The
      terms and  conditions  of  an  officer  of  the  cooperative  society,
      indisputably, are governed by the Rules. Rule 56, to  which  reference
      has been made by Mr Vijay Kumar, does not  contain  any  provision  in
      terms whereof any legal right as such is conferred upon an officer  of
      the Society.


      10. It has not been shown before  us  that  the  State  exercises  any
      direct or indirect control over the affairs of the  Society  for  deep
      and pervasive control. The  State  furthermore  is  not  the  majority
      shareholder. The State has the power only to nominate one Director. It
      cannot, thus, be said that the State exercises any functional  control
      over the affairs of  the  Society  in  the  sense  that  the  majority
      Directors are nominated by the State. For arriving at  the  conclusion
      that the State has a deep and  pervasive  control  over  the  Society,
      several other  relevant  questions  are  required  to  be  considered,
      namely, (1) How was the Society created? (2)  Whether  it  enjoys  any
      monopoly character? (3) Do the functions of  the  Society  partake  to
      statutory  functions  or  public  functions?  and  (4)   Can   it   be
      characterised as public authority?


      11.  Respondent  2,  the  Society  does  not   answer   any   of   the
      aforementioned tests. In the case  of  a  non-statutory  society,  the
      control thereover would mean that the same satisfies  the  tests  laid
      down by this Court in Ajay Hasia  v.  Khalid  Mujib  Sehravardi.  [See
      Zoroastrian Coop. Housing Society  Ltd.  v.  Distt.  Registrar,  Coop.
      Societies (Urban).]


      12. It is well settled that general regulations under an Act, like the
      Companies Act or the Cooperative Societies Act, would not  render  the
      activities of a company or a society as  subject  to  control  of  the
      State. Such control in terms of the provisions of the Act are meant to
      ensure proper functioning of the society and the  State  or  statutory
      authorities would have nothing to do with its day-to-day functions.”


18.   We have, on facts, found that the Co-operative Societies,  with  which
we are concerned in these appeals,  will  not  fall  within  the  expression
“State” or “instrumentalities of the State” within the  meaning  of  Article
12  of  the  Constitution  and  hence  not  subject  to  all  constitutional
limitations as enshrined in Part III of the Constitution.  We may,  however,
come across situations where a body or organization though not  a  State  or
instrumentality of the State, may still satisfy  the  definition  of  public
authority within the meaning of Section 2(h) of the Act, an aspect which  we
may discuss in the later part of this Judgment.

Constitutional provisions and Co-operative autonomy:

19.   Rights of the citizens to form co-operative societies voluntarily,  is
now raised to the level of a fundamental right and State shall endeavour  to
promote their autonomous  functioning.   The  Parliament,  with  a  view  to
enhance public faith in the co-operative institutions and to  insulate  them
to   avoidable   political   or   bureaucratic   interference   brought   in
Constitutional (97th Amendment) Act, 2011, which received the assent of  the
President on 12.01.2012, notified in the Gazette of India on 13.01.2012  and
came into force on 15.02.2012.


20.   Constitutional amendment  has  been  effected  to  encourage  economic
activities of co-operatives which in turn  help  progress  of  rural  India.
Societies  are  expected  not  only  to  ensure  autonomous  and  democratic
functioning of co-operatives, but also accountability of the  management  to
the members and other share  stake-holders.   Article  19  protects  certain
rights regarding freedom of speech.  By  virtue  of  above  amendment  under
Article 19(1)(c) the words  “co-operative  societies”  are  added.   Article
19(1)(c) reads as under:

      “19(1)(c) – All citizens shall have the right to form associations  or
      unions or co-operative societies”.

Article 19(1)(c), therefore, guarantees the freedom to form an  association,
unions and co-operative societies.  Right to  form  a  co-operative  society
is, therefore, raised to the level of a fundamental right, guaranteed  under
the Constitution of India.  Constitutional 97th Amendment Act also  inserted
a new Article 43B with reads as follows :-

      “the State shall endeavour to promote voluntary formation,  autonomous
      functioning, democratic control and  professional  management  of  co-
      operative societies”.




21.   By virtue  of  the  above-mentioned  amendment,  Part  IX-B  was  also
inserted containing Articles 243ZH to  243ZT.   Cooperative  Societies  are,
however, not treated  as  units  of  self-government,  like  Panchayats  and
Municipalities.


22.   Article 243(ZL) dealing with the supersession and suspension of  board
and interim management states that  notwithstanding  anything  contained  in
any law for the time being in force, no board shall be  superseded  or  kept
under suspension for a period exceeding  six  months.  It  provided  further
that the Board of any such co-operative society shall not be  superseded  or
kept under suspension where there is no government shareholding or  loan  or
financial  assistance  or  any  guarantee  by  the   Government.    Such   a
constitutional restriction has been placed after recognizing the  fact  that
there are co-operative societies with no government share  holding  or  loan
or financial assistance or any guarantee by the government.

23.   Co-operative society is a state subject under Entry 32 List I  Seventh
Schedule to the Constitution of India.  Most of the States in India  enacted
their own Co-operative Societies Act  with  a  view  to  provide  for  their
orderly development of the cooperative sector in the state  to  achieve  the
objects of equity, social justice and economic development, as envisaged  in
the Directive Principles of State Policy, enunciated in the Constitution  of
India.  For co-operative societies working  in  more  than  one  State,  The
Multi State Co-operative Societies Act, 1984 was enacted by  the  Parliament
under Entry 44 List I of the Seventh  Schedule  of  the  Constitution.   Co-
operative society  is  essentially  an  association  or  an  association  of
persons who have come together for a common purpose of economic  development
or for mutual help.

Right to Information Act


24.   The RTI Act is an Act enacted  to  provide  for  citizens  to  secure,
access to information  under  the  control  of  public  authorities  and  to
promote transparency and accountability  in  the  working  of  every  public
authority.   The preamble of the Act reads as follows:
            “An Act to provide for setting out the practical regime of right
      to information for citizens to secure access to information under  the
      control of public authorities, in order to  promote  transparency  and
      accountability  in  the  working  of  every  public   authority,   the
      constitution of a Central Information Commission and State Information
      Commissions and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.


           WHEREAS the Constitution of  India  has  established  democratic
      Republic;

               AND WHEREAS democracy  requires  an  informed  citizenry  and
      transparency of information which are vital  to  its  functioning  and
      also  to  contain  corruption  and  to  hold  Governments  and   their
      instrumentalities accountable to the governed;


           AND WHEREAS revelation of  information  in  actual  practice  is
      likely to conflict with other  public  interests  including  efficient
      operations of the Governments, optimum use of limited fiscal resources
      and the preservation of confidentiality of sensitive information;

              AND WHEREAS it is necessary  to  harmonise  these  conflicting
      interests while preserving the paramountcy of the democratic ideal;

             NOW, THEREFORE, it  is  expedient  to  provide  for  furnishing
      certain information to citizens who desire to have it.”

25.   Every public authority is also obliged  to  maintain  all  its  record
duly catalogued and indexed in a manner and the form which  facilitates  the
right to information under this Act and ensure that  all  records  that  are
appropriate to be computerized are, within a reasonable time and subject  to
availability of resources, computerized and connected through a network  all
over the country on different systems so  that  access  to  such  record  is
facilitated.   Public  authority  has  also  to  carry  out  certain   other
functions also, as provided under the Act.

26.   The expression “public authority” is defined  under  Section  2(h)  of
the RTI Act, which reads as follows:
      “2. Definitions._ In this Act, unless the context otherwise requires :


      (h) "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 State Legislature;
           (d) by notification issued or order  made  by  the   appropriate
               Government,  and includes any—


               (i)   body owned, controlled or substantially financed;


                ii)  non-Government  organisation  substantially  financed,
                    directly  or  indirectly  by  funds  provided  by   the
                    appropriate Government”

27.   Legislature, in its wisdom,  while  defining  the  expression  “public
authority” under Section 2(h), intended to embrace  only  those  categories,
which are specifically included, unless the context  of  the  Act  otherwise
requires.  Section 2(h) has used  the  expressions  ‘means’  and  includes’.
When a word is defined to ‘mean’ something, the definition  is  prima  facie
restrictive and where the word is defined to  ‘include’  some  other  thing,
the definition is prima facie extensive.   But  when  both  the  expressions
“means” and “includes”  are  used,  the  categories  mentioned  there  would
exhaust themselves.  Meanings of the  expressions   ‘means’  and  ‘includes’
have been explained by this Court in Delhi Development Authority  v.   Bhola
Nath Sharma (Dead) by LRs and others  (2011) 2 SCC 54, (in paras 25 to  28).
 When such expressions are used, they may afford an  exhaustive  explanation
of the meaning which  for  the  purpose  of  the  Act,  must  invariably  be
attached to those words and expressions.


28.   Section 2(h) exhausts the categories mentioned  therein.   The  former
part of 2(h) deals with:
 (1)  an authority or body of self-government established by  or  under  the
        Constitution,
 (2)  an authority or body or institution of  self-  government  established
        or constituted by any other law made by the Parliament,
 (3)  an authority or body or institution of self-government established  or
        constituted by any other law made by the State legislature, and
 (4)  an authority or body or institution of self-government established  or
        constituted by notification issued or order made by the appropriate
        government.

29.   Societies, with which we are concerned, admittedly,  do  not  fall  in
the above mentioned categories, because none of them is  either  a  body  or
institution  of  self-government,  established  or  constituted  under   the
Constitution, by law made by the  Parliament,  by  law  made  by  the  State
Legislature or by way of a notification issued or made  by  the  appropriate
government.  Let us now examine whether they  fall  in  the  later  part  of
Section 2(h) of the Act, which embraces within its fold:
(5)   a body  owned,  controlled  or  substantially  financed,  directly  or
      indirectly by funds provided by the appropriate government,
 (6)  non-governmental  organizations  substantially  financed  directly  or
      indirectly by funds provided by the appropriate government.


30    The expression ‘Appropriate Government’ has also  been  defined  under
Section 2(a) of the RTI Act, which reads as follows :
      “2(a).   “appropriate  Government”  means  in  relation  to  a  public
             authority which is established, constituted, owned, controlled
             or  substantially  financed  by  funds  provided  directly  or
             indirectly-


                 i)  by  the  Central  Government  or  the  Union  territory
                    administration, the Central Government;
                ii) by the State Government, the State Government.”


31.   The RTI Act, therefore, deals with bodies which are owned,  controlled
or substantially financed, directly or indirectly, by funds provided by  the
appropriate government and also non-government  organizations  substantially
financed, directly or indirectly,  by  funds  provided  by  the  appropriate
government, in the event of which they may fall  within  the  definition  of
Section 2(h)(d)(i) or (ii) respectively.  As already pointed  out,  a  body,
institution or an organization, which is neither a State within the  meaning
of Article 12 of the Constitution or  instrumentalities,  may  still  answer
the definition of public authority under Section 2(h)d (i) or (ii).
(a) Body owned  by  the  appropriate  government  –  A  body  owned  by  the
appropriate government clearly falls under Section 2(h)(d)(i)  of  the  Act.
A body owned, means to have a good legal title to  it  having  the  ultimate
control over the affairs of that body, ownership takes in its fold  control,
finance etc.   Further discussion of this concept  is  unnecessary  because,
admittedly, the societies in question  are  not  owned  by  the  appropriate
government.

(b)   Body Controlled by the Appropriate Government

      A body which is controlled by  the  appropriate  government  can  fall
under the definition of public authority under  Section  2h(d)(i).   Let  us
examine the meaning of the expression “controlled” in  the  context  of  RTI
Act and not  in  the  context  of  the  expression  “controlled”  judicially
interpreted while examining  the  scope  of  the  expression  “State”  under
Article 12 of the Constitution or in the context  of  maintainability  of  a
writ against a body or authority under Article 226 of  the  Constitution  of
India.       The word “control” or “controlled” has not been defined in  the
RTI Act, and hence, we have  to  understand  the  scope  of  the  expression
‘controlled’ in the context of the words which exist  prior  and  subsequent
i.e. “body owned” and “substantially financed”  respectively.   The  meaning
of the word “control” has come up for consideration in several cases  before
this Court in different contexts.  In State of West Bengal  and  another  v.
Nripendra Nath Bagchi, AIR 1966 SC  447  while  interpreting  the  scope  of
Article 235 of the Constitution of India, which confers control by the  High
Court over  District  Courts,  this  Court  held  that  the  word  “control”
includes the power to take disciplinary action and all other  incidental  or
consequential  steps  to  effectuate  this  end  and  made   the   following
observations :

      “The word ‘control’, as we have seen, was used for the first  time  in
      the Constitution and it is accompanied by the word ‘vest’ which  is  a
      strong word. It shows that the High Court is made the  sole  custodian
      of the control over the judiciary. Control, therefore, is  not  merely
      the power to  arrange  the  day  to  day  working  of  the  court  but
      contemplates disciplinary jurisdiction over the presiding Judge.... In
      our judgment, the control which is vested  in  the  High  Court  is  a
      complete control subject only to the power  of  the  Governor  in  the
      matter of appointment (including dismissal and  removal)  and  posting
      and promotion of District Judges. Within the exercise of  the  control
      vested in the High Court, the High Court can  hold  enquiries,  impose
      punishments other than dismissal or removal, ...”


32.   The above position  has  been  reiterated  by  this  Court  in   Chief
Justice of Andhra Pradesh and others v. L.V.A. Dixitulu and others (1979)  2
SCC 34.  In Corporation of the  City  of  Nagpur  Civil  Lines,  Nagpur  and
another v. Ramchandra and others (1981) 2 SCC 714,  while  interpreting  the
provisions of Section 59(3) of the City of  Nagpur  Corporation  Act,  1948,
this Court held as follows :

      “4.  It is thus now settled by this Court that the term  “control”  is
      of a very wide connotation and amplitude and includes a large  variety
      of powers which are incidental or consequential to achieve the powers-
      vested in the authority concerned…….”

33.    The  word  “control”   is   also   sometimes   used   synonyms   with
superintendence, management or authority to direct, restrict or regulate  by
a superior authority in exercise of its supervisory power.   This  Court  in
The Shamrao Vithal Co-operative Bank Ltd. v.  Kasargode  Pandhuranga  Mallya
(1972) 4 SCC 600, held that the word “control” does  not  comprehend  within
itself the adjudication of a claim made by a  co-operative  society  against
its members. The meaning of the word “control” has also been  considered  by
this Court in State of Mysore v. Allum Karibasappa & Ors. (1974) 2 SCC  498,
while interpreting Section 54 of the Mysore Cooperative Societies Act,  1959
and Court  held  that  the  word  “control”  suggests  check,  restraint  or
influence and intended to regulate and hold  in  check  and  restraint  from
action.  The expression “control” again came  up  for  consideration  before
this Court in Madan Mohan Choudhary v. State of Bihar & Ors.  (1999)  3  SCC
396, in the context of Article 235 of the Constitution and  the  Court  held
that the  expression  “control”  includes  disciplinary  control,  transfer,
promotion, confirmation, including transfer of a District  Judge  or  recall
of a District  Judge  posted  on  ex-cadre  post  or  on  deputation  or  on
administrative post  etc.  so  also  premature  and  compulsory  retirement.
Reference may also be made to few other judgments of this Court reported  in
Gauhati High Court and another v. Kuladhar Phukan and another (2002)  4  SCC
524, State of Haryana v. Inder Prakash Anand HCS and  others  (1976)  2  SCC
977, High Court of Judicature for Rajasthan  v.  Ramesh  Chand  Paliwal  and
Another (1998) 3 SCC 72,  Kanhaiya Lal  Omar  v.  R.K.  Trivedi  and  others
(1985) 4 SCC 628, TMA Pai  Foundation  and  others  v.  State  of  Karnataka
(2002) 8 SCC 481, Ram Singh and others v. Union  Territory,  Chandigarh  and
others  (2004) 1 SCC 126, etc.

34.   We are of the opinion that when we  test  the  meaning  of  expression
“controlled”  which  figures  in  between  the  words   “body   owned”   and
“substantially financed”, the control by the appropriate government must  be
a control of a substantial nature.  The mere ‘supervision’  or  ‘regulation’
as such by a statute or otherwise of a body  would  not  make  that  body  a
“public authority” within the meaning of Section 2(h)(d)(i) of the RTI  Act.
 In other words just like a body owned or  body  substantially  financed  by
the appropriate government, the control  of  the  body  by  the  appropriate
government  would  also  be  substantial  and  not  merely  supervisory   or
regulatory.  Powers exercised by the Registrar of Cooperative Societies  and
others  under  the  Cooperative  Societies  Act  are  only   regulatory   or
supervisory in nature, which will not amount to  dominating  or  interfering
with the management or affairs of  the  society  so  as  to  be  controlled.
Management  and  control  are  statutorily  conferred  on   the   Management
Committee or the Board  of  Directors  of  the  Society  by  the  respective
Cooperative Societies Act and not on the authorities under the  Co-operative
Societies Act.

35.   We are, therefore, of the view that  the  word  “controlled”  used  in
Section 2(h)(d)(i) of the Act has to be understood in the context  in  which
it has been used vis-a-vis a body owned or  substantially  financed  by  the
appropriate government, that is the control of the body is of such a  degree
which amounts to substantial control over the management and affairs of  the
body.




SUBSTANTIALLY FINANCED

36.    The  words  “substantially  financed”  have  been  used  in  Sections
2(h)(d)(i) & (ii), while defining the expression public  authority  as  well
as in Section 2(a) of the Act, while defining  the  expression  “appropriate
Government”.  A body can be substantially financed, directly  or  indirectly
by  funds  provided  by  the   appropriate   Government.    The   expression
“substantially financed”, as such, has  not  been  defined  under  the  Act.
“Substantial” means “in a substantial manner so as to be substantial”.    In
Palser v. Grimling (1948) 1 All  ER  1,  11  (HL),  while  interpreting  the
provisions of Section 10(1) of the Rent and Mortgage  Interest  Restrictions
Act, 1923, the House of Lords held that “substantial” is  not  the  same  as
“not unsubstantial” i.e. just enough to  avoid  the  de  minimis  principle.
The word “substantial” literally means  solid,  massive  etc.    Legislature
has used the expression “substantially financed” in Sections 2(h)(d)(i)  and
(ii) indicating that the degree  of  financing  must  be  actual,  existing,
positive  and  real  to  a  substantial  extent,  not  moderate,   ordinary,
tolerable etc.

37.   We often use the  expressions  “questions  of  law”  and  “substantial
questions of law” and explain that any question of law affecting  the  right
of parties would not by  itself  be  a  substantial  question  of  law.   In
Black's Law Dictionary (6th Edn.), the word 'substantial' is defined as  'of
real worth and importance; of considerable  value;  valuable.  Belonging  to
substance; actually existing; real: not seeming or imaginary; not  illusive;
solid;  true;  veritable.  Something  worthwhile   as   distinguished   from
something without value or merely nominal. Synonymous  with  material.'  The
word  'substantially'  has  been  defined  to  mean  'essentially;   without
material qualification; in the main; in substance;  materially.'     In  the
Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (5th Edn.), the word  'substantial'  means
'of ample or considerable amount of size;  sizeable,  fairly  large;  having
solid worth or  value,  of  real  significance;  sold;  weighty;  important,
worthwhile; of an act, measure  etc.  having  force  or  effect,  effective,
thorough.' The word 'substantially' has been defined to mean 'in  substance;
as a substantial thing or being; essentially, intrinsically.' Therefore  the
word 'substantial' is not synonymous with 'dominant' or  'majority'.  It  is
closer  to  'material'  or   'important'   or   'of   considerable   value.'
'Substantially'  is  closer  to  'essentially'.    Both  words  can  signify
varying degrees depending on the context.


38.   Merely providing subsidiaries, grants,  exemptions,  privileges  etc.,
as such, cannot be said to be providing funding  to  a  substantial  extent,
unless the record shows that the funding was  so  substantial  to  the  body
which practically runs by such funding and but for such  funding,  it  would
struggle to exist.   The State may also float  many  schemes  generally  for
the betterment and welfare of the cooperative sector like deposit  guarantee
scheme, scheme of assistance from  NABARD  etc.,  but  those  facilities  or
assistance cannot  be  termed  as  “substantially  financed”  by  the  State
Government to bring the body within the fold  of  “public  authority”  under
Section 2(h)(d)(i) of the Act.  But,  there  are  instances,  where  private
educational institutions getting ninety five per cent grant-in-aid from  the
appropriate government, may answer the definition of public authority  under
Section 2(h)(d)(i).

NON-GOVERNMENT ORGANISATIONS:

39.   The  term  “Non-Government  Organizations”  (NGO),  as  such,  is  not
defined under the Act.  But, over a period of time, the expression  has  got
its own meaning and, it has to be seen in that context,  when  used  in  the
Act.   Government used  to  finance  substantially,  several  non-government
organizations, which carry on various social and welfare  activities,  since
those  organizations  sometimes  carry  on  functions  which  are  otherwise
governmental.   Now, the question, whether an  NGO  has  been  substantially
financed or not by the appropriate Government, may be a  question  of  fact,
to be examined by the authorities  concerned  under  the  RTI  Act.     Such
organization can be substantially financed either directly or indirectly  by
funds provided by the appropriate Government.  Government may not  have  any
statutory control over the NGOs, as such, still it can be  established  that
a particular NGO has been substantially financed directly or  indirectly  by
the funds provided by the appropriate Government, in  such  an  event,  that
organization will fall within the scope of Section 2(h)(d)(ii)  of  the  RTI
Act.   Consequently, even private organizations which are, though not  owned
or controlled but substantially financed by the appropriate Government  will
also  fall  within  the  definition  of  “public  authority”  under  Section
2(h)(d)(ii) of the Act.

BURDEN TO SHOW:

40.   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.

41.   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.  Section 19 of the  Act  provides  for  an  appeal  against  the
decision of  the  Central  Information  Officer  or  the  State  Information
Officer to such officer who is senior in rank  to  the  Central  Information
Officer or the State Information Officer,  as  the  case  may  be,  in  each
public authority.   Therefore, there is inbuilt mechanism in the Act  itself
to examine whether a body is owned, controlled or substantially financed  or
an NGO is substantially financed, directly or indirectly, by funds  provided
by the appropriate authority.

 42.  Legislative intention is clear and is discernible  from  Section  2(h)
that intends to include various categories, discussed earlier.  It is  trite
law that the primarily language employed is the determinative factor of  the
legislative intention and the intention of the legislature must be found  in
the words used by the legislature itself.  In Magor and  St.  Mellons  Rural
District Council v. New Port Corporation (1951)  2  All  ER  839(HL)  stated
that the courts  are  warned  that  they  are  not  entitled  to  usurp  the
legislative function under the guise  of  interpretation.    This  Court  in
D.A. Venkatachalam and others  v.  Dy.  Transport  Commissioner  and  others
(1977) 2 SCC 273,  Union of India v. Elphinstone Spinning  and  Weaving  Co.
Ltd. and others (2001) 4 SCC 139,  District Mining  Officer  and  others  v.
Tata Iron & Steel Co. and another  (2001)  7  SCC  358,  Padma  Sundara  Rao
(Dead) and others v. State of Tamil  Nadu  and  others  (2002)  3  SCC  533,
Maulvi Hussain Haji Abraham Umarji v. State of Gujarat and another (2004)  6
SCC  672  held  that  the  court  must  avoid  the  danger  of  an   apriori
determination of the meaning of a provision based on their own  preconceived
notions of ideological structure or scheme into which the provisions  to  be
interpreted is somehow fitted.   It is trite law that  words  of  a  statute
are clear, plain and unambiguous i.e. they  are  reasonably  susceptible  to
only one meaning, the courts are  bound  to  give  effect  to  that  meaning
irrespective of the consequences,  meaning  thereby  when  the  language  is
clear and unambiguous and  admits  of  only  one  meaning,  no  question  of
construction of a statute arises, for the statute speaks for  itself.   This
Court in Kanai Lal Sur v. Paramnidhi Sadhukhan AIR 1957  SC  907  held  that
“if the words used are capable of one construction only then  it  would  not
be open to courts to  adopt  any  other  hypothetical  construction  on  the
ground that such construction is more consistent  with  the  alleged  object
and policy of the Act.”

43.   We are of the view that the High Court has given a complete go-bye  to
the above-mentioned statutory principles and  gone  at  a  tangent  by  mis-
interpreting the meaning and content of Section 2(h) of the RTI Act.   Court
has given a liberal construction  to  expression  “public  authority”  under
Section 2(h) of the Act, bearing in mind the  “transformation  of  law”  and
its “ultimate object” i.e. to  achieve  “transparency  and  accountability”,
which according to the court could alone advance the objective of  the  Act.
Further, the High Court has also opined that RTI Act will certainly help  as
a protection against the  mismanagement  of  the  society  by  the  managing
committee and the society’s liabilities and that  vigilant  members  of  the
public body by obtaining information through the RTI Act, will  be  able  to
detect and prevent mismanagement in  time.   In  our  view,  the  categories
mentioned in Section 2(h) of the Act exhaust themselves, hence, there is  no
question of adopting  a  liberal  construction  to  the  expression  “public
authority” to bring in other categories into its fold, which do not  satisfy
the tests we have laid down.  Court  cannot,  when  language  is  clear  and
unambiguous, adopt such a construction which, according to the Court,  would
only advance the objective of the Act. We are  also  aware  of  the  opening
part of the definition clause which states  “unless  the  context  otherwise
requires”.   No  materials  have  been  made  available  to  show  that  the
cooperative societies, with which we are concerned, in the  context  of  the
Act, would fall within the definition of Section 2(h) of the Act.

Right to Information and the Right to Privacy


44.   People’s right to have access to an official information  finds  place
in Resolution 59(1) of the UN General Assembly  held  in  1946.   It  states
that freedom of information is a fundamental human right and the  touchstone
to all the freedoms to which the United Nations is consecrated.    India  is
a party to the International Covenant on  Civil  and  Political  Rights  and
hence India is under an obligation to effectively  guarantee  the  right  to
information.  Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human  Rights  also
recognizes right to information.  Right to information  also  emanates  from
the fundamental right guaranteed to citizens under Article 19(1)(a)  of  the
Constitution of India.  Constitution of India does not  explicitly  grant  a
right to information.   In Bennet Coleman & Co.  and  others  Vs.  Union  of
India and  others  (1972)  2  SCC  788,  this  Court  observed  that  it  is
indisputable that by “Freedom of Press” meant the right of all  citizens  to
speak, publish and express their views and freedom of speech and  expression
includes within its compass the  right  of  all  citizens  to  read  and  be
informed.   In Union of India Vs.  Association  of  Democratic  Reforms  and
another (2002) 5 SCC 294, this Court held that the right to know  about  the
antecedents  including  criminal  past  of  the  candidates  contesting  the
election for Parliament and State Assembly is a  very  important  and  basic
facets for survival of democracy and for  this  purpose,  information  about
the candidates to be selected must be disclosed.  In State of U.P.  Vs.  Raj
Narain and others (1975) 4 SCC 428, this Court recognized that the right  to
know is the right that flows  from  the  right  of  freedom  of  speech  and
expression guaranteed under  Article  19(1)(a)  of  the  Constitution.    In
People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) and others Vs. Union of India  and
another (2003) 4 SCC 399, this Court observed that the right to  information
is a facet  of  freedom  of  speech  and  expression  contained  in  Article
19(1)(a)  of  the  Constitution  of  India.   Right  to   information   thus
indisputably is a fundamental right, so held in several  judgments  of  this
Court, which calls for no further elucidation.

45.   The Right to Information Act,  2005  is  an  Act  which  provides  for
setting up the practical regime of right  to  information  for  citizens  to
secure access to information under the  control  of  public  authorities  in
order to promote transparency and accountability in  the  working  of  every
public authority.   Preamble of the  Act  also  states  that  the  democracy
requires an informed citizenry and transparency  of  information  which  are
vital to its  functioning  and  also  to  contain  corruption  and  to  hold
Governments  and  their  instrumentalities  accountable  to  the   governed.
Citizens have, however, the right to secure access to  information  of  only
those matters which are “under  the  control  of  public  authorities”,  the
purpose is to hold “Government and  its  instrumentalities”  accountable  to
the  governed.    Consequently,  though  right  to  get  information  is   a
fundamental right guaranteed under Article  19(1)(a)  of  the  Constitution,
limits are being prescribed under  the  Act  itself,  which  are  reasonable
restrictions within the meaning of Article  19(2)  of  the  Constitution  of
India.

46.    Right  to  privacy  is  also  not  expressly  guaranteed  under   the
Constitution of India.  However, the Privacy Bill, 2011 to provide  for  the
right to privacy to citizens  of  India  and  to  regulate  the  collection,
maintenance  and  dissemination  of  their  personal  information  and   for
penalization for violation of such rights and matters  connected  therewith,
is pending.    In several judgments including  Kharak  Singh  Vs.  State  of
U.P. and others AIR 1963 SC 1295, R. Rajagopal alias R.R. Gopal and  another
Vs. State of Tamil Nadu and others (1994) 6  SCC  632,  People’s  Union  for
Civil Liberties (PUCL) Vs. Union of India and another (1997) 1 SCC  301  and
State of Maharashtra Vs. Bharat Shanti Lal Shah and others (2008) 13 SCC  5,
this Court has recognized the  right  to  privacy  as  a  fundamental  right
emanating from Article 21 of the Constitution of India.   Right  to  privacy
is also recognized as a basic human right under Article 12 of the  Universal
Declaration of Human Rights Act, 1948, which states as follows:
      “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy,
      family, home or correspondence, not to  attack  upon  his  honour  and
      reputation.  Everyone has the right to the protection of  law  against
      such interference or attacks.”

Article 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights  Act,
1966, to which India is a party also  protects  that  right  and  states  as
follows:
      “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference  with
      his privacy, family, home and correspondence nor to  unlawful  attacks
      on his honour and reputation….”

This Court in R. Rajagopal  (supra) held as follows :-
      “The right to privacy is implicit in the right  to  life  and  liberty
      guaranteed to the citizens of this country by Article  21.   It  is  a
      “right to be let alone”. A  citizen  has  a  right  to  safeguard  the
      privacy of his own, his  family,  marriage,  procreation,  motherhood,
      child bearing and education among other matters.”



Restrictions and Limitations:

47.   Right  to  information  and  Right  to  privacy  are,  therefore,  not
absolute rights, both the rights, one of which falls under Article  19(1)(a)
and the other under Article 21 of the Constitution of India,  can  obviously
be regulated, restricted  and  curtailed  in  the  larger  public  interest.
Absolute or uncontrolled individual rights do not and cannot  exist  in  any
modern State.  Citizens’ right to get information is statutorily  recognized
by the RTI Act, but at the same time limitations are also  provided  in  the
Act itself, which is discernible from the Preamble and other  provisions  of
the Act.  First of all, the  scope  and  ambit  of  the  expression  “public
authority” has been restricted by a statutory definition under Section  2(h)
limiting it to  the  categories  mentioned  therein  which  exhaust  itself,
unless the context otherwise requires.   Citizens, as already  indicated  by
us, have a right to get  information,  but  can  have  access  only  to  the
information “held” and under  the  “control  of  public  authorities”,  with
limitations.  If the information is not statutorily accessible by  a  public
authority,  as  defined  in  Section  2(h)  of  the  Act,  evidently,  those
information will not  be  under  the  “control  of  the  public  authority”.
Resultantly, it will not be possible for the citizens to  secure  access  to
those information which are not under the control of the  public  authority.
Citizens, in that event, can always claim a right to privacy, the  right  of
a citizen to access information should be respected,  so  also  a  citizen’s
right to privacy.

48.   Public authority also is  not  legally  obliged  to  give  or  provide
information even if it is held, or under its control,  if  that  information
falls under clause (j) of Sub-section (1) of Section  8.    Section  8(1)(j)
is of considerable importance so far as this case is concerned, hence  given
below, for ready reference:-
      “8.   Exemption from disclosure of information – (1)   Notwithstanding
      anything contained in this Act, there shall be no obligation  to  give
      any citizen –


      (a) to (i)  xxx  xxx   xxx


      (j) information which 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 unless the Central Public Information Officer or the  State
      Public Information Officer or the appellate authority, as the case may
      be, is  satisfied  that  the  larger  public  interest  justifies  the
      disclosure of such information: Provided that  the  information  which
      cannot be denied to the Parliament or a State Legislature shall not be
      denied to any person.”


49.   Section 8 begins with a non obstante clause, which gives that  Section
an overriding effect, in case of conflict, over the other provisions of  the
Act.  Even if, there is any indication to the contrary, still  there  is  no
obligation on the public authority to give information  to  any  citizen  of
what has been mentioned in  clauses  (a)  to  (j).    Public  authority,  as
already  indicated,  cannot  access  all  the  information  from  a  private
individual, but only those information which he is legally obliged  to  pass
on to a public authority by law, and also only those  information  to  which
the public authority can have access in accordance  with  law.   Even  those
information, if personal in nature, can be made available  only  subject  to
the limitations provided in Section 8(j) of the RTI Act.  Right to  be  left
alone, as propounded in Olmstead v.  The  United  States  reported  in  1927
(277) US 438 is the most comprehensive of the  rights  and  most  valued  by
civilized man.

50.   Recognizing the fact that the right to privacy is a  sacrosanct  facet
of Article 21 of  the  Constitution,  the  legislation  has  put  a  lot  of
safeguards to protect the rights under Section 8(j), as  already  indicated.
If the information sought for is personal and has no relationship  with  any
public  activity  or  interest  or  it  will  not  sub-serve  larger  public
interest, the public authority or  the  officer  concerned  is  not  legally
obliged to provide those information.  Reference may be  made  to  a  recent
judgment  of  this  Court  in  Girish  Ramchandra   Deshpande   v.   Central
Information Commissioner and others (2013) 1 SCC  212,  wherein  this  Court
held  that  since  there  is  no  bona  fide  public  interest  in   seeking
information, the disclosure of  said  information  would  cause  unwarranted
invasion of privacy of the individual under  Section  8(1)(j)  of  the  Act.
Further, if the authority finds that information  sought  for  can  be  made
available in the larger public interest, then the officer should record  his
reasons in writing before providing  the  information,  because  the  person
from whom information is sought for, has also a right to privacy  guaranteed
under Article 21 of the Constitution.

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.   Now, the next  question  is  whether  a  citizen  can  have
access to any information  of  these  Societies  through  the  Registrar  of
Cooperative Societies, who is a  public  authority  within  the  meaning  of
Section 2(h) of the Act.

Registrar of Cooperative Societies

52.   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 Co-operative 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.

53.   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.

54.   We, therefore, hold that the Cooperative  Societies  registered  under
the Kerala Co-operative Societies Act will not fall  within  the  definition
of “public authority” as defined under Section 2(h) of the RTI Act  and  the
State Government letter dated 5.5.2006 and  the  circular  dated  01.06.2006
issued by the Registrar of Co-operative Societies, Kerala,  to  the  extent,
made applicable  to  societies  registered  under  the  Kerala  Co-operative
Societies Act would stand quashed in the absence of materials to  show  that
they are owned, controlled or  substantially  financed  by  the  appropriate
Government.  Appeals are, therefore, allowed  as  above,  however,  with  no
order as to costs.


                                                             ………..………………….J.
                                                                 (K.S.
                               Radhakrishnan)


                                                               ……………………………J.
                                                (A.K. Sikri)
New Delhi,
October 07, 2013

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