Monday, March 06, 2017

Cooperative housing societies not covered under RTI: Info chief

DNA: Mumbai: Monday, March 06, 2017.
If you were planning to file an RTI application with your society and the matter reaches the information commission, chances are that you will be told that co-operative housing societies (CHS) are not covered under RTI Act as yet. The State Chief Information Commissioner (SCIC) in its stand on the recent high court order has stated that the court order nowhere states that co-operative institutions are public authority and covered under RTI.
A recent judgement given by Aurangabad Bench of High Court on February 13, 2017 by Justice Sangitrao S Patil and Justice TV Nalawade had got some activist interpreting that it brings the CHS under RTI Act.
When DNA contacted Ratnakar Gaikwad, SCIC, he said, "In fact, we are following the same principle that information available with registrar has to be made available to information seekers. Even charity commissioner is always directed to provide available information. Nowhere, judgment says, co-operative institutions are public authorities."
Activists too have differing interpretations. "The order categorically does not state CHS are public authority but as per the 97th amendment to the Constitution, cooperatives are now in the same list as Gram Panchayats and hence public authorities. The interpretation may not be agreeable now but two years down the line, it will have to be agreed upon. The amendment is clear on that and the interpretation of the order leads to that," said Vijay Kumbhar, an RTI activist who first circulated the order.
Former central information commissioner, Shailesh Gandhi said that while there could be exceptions when there is substantial funding or when an administrator is running the show at a CHS, they are not public authorities as yet. "Although I would be very happy that they are covered under RTI, this judgement does not say so," said Gandhi.
"But this order makes one thing very clear. Any co-operative society cannot deny information that is not exempted under section 8 of RTI Act to the registrar of co-operative society. The registrar will also have to call information from the co-operative societies if they are not exempted and provide them to the applicant even if they are not keeping records of it. To declare that a housing society is covered under RTI in thisjudgement is a debatable matter because the judgement does not give clear indication," said Bhaskar Prabhu, member of Mahiti Adhikar Manch, a body that works for awareness of RTI.
Jalgaon Jillha Urban Cooperative Banks Association Ltd. had approached court with contention that as per provisions of section 2(h) and section 8 of the RTI Act, they are not public authorities. Section 2 (h) talks about the definition of the public authority and section 8 about exemptions under the RTI Act.
It also pleaded that registrar of societies or its subordinates should stop insisting the co-operatives to pass on information in respect of the conduct of business and other things of the societies to the members or even general public under the provisions of the RTI Act or give it away themselves when given to them.
While the court order went on to state that co-operative institutions cannot deny providing information to the authorities, it did not state anything on them being public authorities as per interpretations of information commission and some RTI experts. It, however, negated institution's arguments that since they are "private body" and share information in "fiduciary relationship" their information should not be given.