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Thursday, January 10, 2008

NGOs liable to answer RTI queries :Kerala,India

Non-Government organisations (NGO) receiving government grants or aid for specific projects come under the Right to Information (RTI) Act and are required to provide information to the public under the Act. They also need to designate information officers to answer the public’s queries, the State Information Commission (SIC) has ruled.

In a recent precedent-setting order, the SIC held that any NGO receiving government aid — even if the aid is for a specific project— was liable to provide information sought by the members of the public.

The order, issued by the State Chief Information Commissioner and all the three State Information Commissioners, was on a petition against two NGOs who had refused to provide information on their spending of the government aid sought by S. Krishna Kumar of Vellanad.

The NGOs, Mithranikethan and The Dale View, argued that since they had received government aid only for specific projects they were not liable to provide information to the public.

The commission shot down the argument and ordered them to provide the information sought by the person and also to designate assistant public information officer, public information officer and appellate authority to deal with the public request for information.

Inalienable right

“The Commission found that access to information regarding public money cannot be denied to the members of the public under any circumstances,” the commissioners stated in the order.

“The public have an inalienable right to know how the government money is spent and whether it is spent for the purposes for which it is provided and, if it is spent, also, the manner in which it is meant to be spent. Since these institutions have been receiving public funds and since they both have been working as implementing agencies of the government’s schemes and programmes, although for specific projects, they have to be deemed to be Public Authorities under section 2 (h) (ii) RTI Act to that extent.”

‘Public authority’

According to section 2 (h) (ii), ‘Public Authority’ means any authority or body or institution of self-government including “non-government organisation substantially financed directly or indirectly by funds provided by the appropriate government.”

However, State Chief Information Commissioner Palat Mohandas clarified that when an NGO is given aid for specific projects, the RTI applies to only that project. Many NGOs get funding from variety of sources, including from overseas.

The NGO could be deemed a public authority to the extent of government funding or to the specific project for which funding is provided.

Aided colleges

Aided colleges, run by the Christian Church and other community organisations, also come under the definition of ‘public authority’ and are hence required to provide information to the public.

Aided colleges receive hundreds of crores of State government money every year. However, an earlier order issued by the commission on the application of RTI to aided private colleges has been challenged in the High Court.

A single judge’s verdict that upheld the commission’s stand has now been challenged before a larger Bench.


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