Times of India: Pune: Wednesday, March 22, 2017.
Private unaided trusts or academic institutions which are not receiving any "substantial financial aid" from the government do not fall within the ambit of the Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2005, the state information commission's Pune bench has ruled.
The bench, presided over by information commissioner Ravindra Jadhav, has set aside an order of February 4, 2015 by the first appeal officer and block education officer of Panchgani panchayat samiti. The impugned (under challenge) order had directed the New Era High School at Panchgani, near Mahabaleshwar, to supply information regarding its teaching, non-teaching staff and other aspects under the RTI Act.
The high school, which offers CBSE and Cambridge IGCSE curricula from Std I to XII, is run by the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of India.
In June 2015, the institution had moved a second appeal before the SIC Pune bench, arguing that it is a permanently unaided school. That, it was neither a public authority as defined under Section 2 of the RTI Act nor was it directly or indirectly receiving any "substantial financial assistance" from the government. "The term substantially financed is critical here in the context of the rulings by the higher courts regarding applicability of RTI Act to private unaided institutions," lawyer Shivraj Kadam, who represented the institution, told TOI on Tuesday.
The SIC bench referred to a judgment by the Nagpur bench of the Bombay high court on August 20, 2009 and held in an order on March 10 that it was amply clear from this ruling that RTI Act provisions cannot be applied to those unaided institutions which are not getting any substantial financial aid from the government.
The high court had ruled that private unaided schools and colleges cannot fall within the definition of 'Public Authority' under Section 2 (J) of the RTI Act. Further referring to direct or indirect financing by the government, the high court had said, "The term 'substantially financed' has been repeatedly used by the Parliament with a view to exclude such institutions which are financed directly or indirectly with a small or little contribution of funds by the appropriate government. The Parliament has deliberately used the word 'substantially' and this court finds that there is wisdom in doing so."
Referring to other two rulings by the Punjab and Haryana high court, the SIC bench held, "It would not be a good precedent to direct respondent no. 2 (New Era School principal) to supply the information in so much as the said respondent might be imparting education and performing public functions, however, is not receiving substantial grant-in-aid."
Nitin Uttamrao Kokate, a resident of Koparkhairane in Navi Mumbai, had sought the information from the school and the same was turned down by the school principal following which he had approached the first appeal officer at Panchgani panchayat samiti. "The SIC bench's latest order comes as a major relief for similarly placed private unaided institutions across the state," said Kadam.