Thursday, March 02, 2017

Co-op bodies come under RTI ambit: HC

Times of India: Aurangabad: Thursday, March 02, 2017.
Cooperative institutions can no longer refuse to divulge information under the Right To Information (RTI) Act with the Aurangabad bench of the Bombay high court ruling that these establishments come under the purview of the transparency legislation.
The two-member bench of Justices Sangitrao Patil and T V Nalawade referred to a Supreme Court verdict in a matter involving the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) and held that everything which is mentioned in the definition of information as per RTI Act needs to be provided by the cooperative institutions. The court also said that previous interpretation made by it while deciding the case was not correct in view of the apex court verdict.
While disposing of the petition filed by the association of Jalgaon Zilla Urban Cooperative Banks, Credit Societies and other financial institutions seeking exemption from the RTI Act, the court ruled that the contention of the cooperative institution that it is a private body was dealt with by the Supreme Court.
The petitioner had argued before the court that cooperative institutions registered under Maharashtra Cooperative Societies Act, 1960 cannot be treated as public authority as per the section 2(h) and section 8 of the RTI Act. Also, another major contention was that in view of the provision of section 34A of the Banking Regulation Act, 1949, cooperative institutions are not bound to disclose certain information which, according to them, is confidential in nature.
The court, besides invoking the Supreme Court verdict, also brought to the notice the possibility of state aid and even giving subsidies to cooperative institution to protect the cooperative movement. Even Articles 38, 39, 43 and 48 of the Directive Principles of State Policy of the Constitution of India show that to some extent such institutions are discharging duty of the state, the court said.
Highlighting that cooperative institutions cannot act independently and the apex bodies are created for such institutions, the court ruled that the observations made by the apex court can be used safely when the information is sought from the authority like Registrar or his subordinates of a cooperative institution.
Advocate Suresh Kulkarni, who represented Virendra Karanjikar in a crucial intervention application before the court, said the ruling would ensure transparency and accountability in the cooperative sector.
"The verdict will have a far reaching effect in Maharashtra, which pioneered the cooperative movement in the country. The cooperative sector was witnessing gradual decline over the past some years due to opaque and unaccountable functioning. The court ruling will usher in a new era," he said.
There are a total of 510 urban cooperative banks and 15,000 credit cooperative societies in the state. State cooperation commissioner Chandrakant Dalvi said the verdict in the matter of cooperative institutions would be followed in letter and spirit.
"At our end, we will take proactive measures to ensure institutions governed by us suo motu disclose the information under the RTI Act. The audit reports should be also made public voluntarily," he said.
The RTI community, which was insisting on bringing the cooperative institutions under the transparency legislation for long, has hailed the court verdict stating it would have great impact on the functioning of cooperative sector.
RTI activist Vijay Kumbhar said the court verdict has ruled that cooperative institutions cannot skip the RTI Act. "The verdict has come in the light of an apex court verdict and is welcomed by RTI community for larger good of the society," he said.