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Government-funded NGOs come under RTI ambit, says SC

Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) receiving substantial financing from the government are bound to give information to the public under the RTI Act, the Supreme Court held on Tuesday. The bench was dealing with an issue on whether NGOs substantially financed by the government fall within the ambit of 'public authority' under provisions of the Right to Information Act, 2005.

Features of the judgement

➢ The Supreme Court has ruled that NGOs which receive considerable finances from the government fall under the category of “public authority” defined in Section 2(h) of the Right to Information (RTI) Act of 2005.

➢ This means that they have to disclose vital information ranging from finances to hierarchy to decisions to functioning, to the citizens who apply under RTI.

➢ An NGO may also include societies which are neither owned or controlled by the government but if they are substantially funded by the government, directly or indirectly, they come under the RTI Act.

Substantial Funding

➢ The court said that substantial funding does not necessarily have to mean a major portion or more than 50%. Substantial financing can be both direct or indirect.

➢ It said that if the government gives land in a city free of cost or on heavy discount to hospitals, educational institutions or any such body, this could also be substantial financing.

Legal Position

➢ The bench said that the bodies and NGOs mentioned in the Act as 'public authority' are in addition to those established or constituted by or under the Constitution; by any other law made by Parliament; by any other law made by state legislature and by notification issued or order made by the appropriate government.

➢ It said that the principle of purposive construction of a statute is a well recognised principle which has been incorporated in our jurisprudence.

➢ "While giving a purposive interpretation, a court is required to place itself in the chair of the legislature or author of the statute", it said and added that the provision should be construed in such a manner to ensure that the object of the Act is fulfilled.

➢ "Obviously, if the language of the Act is clear then the language has to be followed, and the court cannot give its own interpretation. However, if the language admits of two meanings then the court can refer to the Objects and Reasons, and find out the true meaning of the provisions as intended by the authors of the enactment," it said.

Right to Information Act, 2005

➢ RTI Act provides for timely disclosure of information by citizens from both central and State Public Authorities. It seeks to empower citizens and promote accountability and transparency.

➢ Under the Act, Public Authorities are required to make disclosures on various aspects of their structure and functioning.

➢ This includes (a)disclosure on their organisation (b)functions and structure (c)powers and duties of its officers and employees and (d)Financial information.

Check out Reasonable restriction on Freedom of speech

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