Civil Appeal No. 9828/2019
section 2(h) of Right to Information Act, 2005
The appellant, DAV College Trust and Management Society runs several independent colleges and schools. The appellants moved before the Supreme Court claiming that the colleges, as NGOs, do not constitute ‘public authorities’ as defined under the Right to Information Act, 2005 and therefore are not subject to it. The Act was enacted by the Parliament of India to establish the right and access to information from the public authority for its citizens. It promotes the transparency of the information to diminish corruption from the country.
The definition of public authority is defined under section 2(h) of the Act. The appellants argued that the provision states that only authorities, bodies or institution can be declared as public authorities. Hence, the act should cover only the government bodies, and not the NGOs like school and colleges. Also, if any institution or organization is to be included in clause (a) to (c) then it should receive an official notification according to clause (d).
The Court compared the use of the word ‘means’ in Section 2(h) of the Act, which indicated “exhaustive and complete” definitions of the first four categories of public authorities, with the use of the word ‘includes’ in the second part of the section, which indicated that the legislature intended the last two categories of public authorities to be interpreted more broadly. Accordingly, the Court found that sub-clauses (i) and (ii), which defined bodies and NGOs owned, controlled or substantially financed by the Government, to form separate categories of public authorities.
The Court also observed that the term NGO was not defined under the Act or any other statute, but described bodies, which are “legally constituted but non-governmental in nature.” Schools and colleges would fall under that definition. Further, organizations, which receive part or all of their funding from the government, can maintain their status as an NGO if they are run independently and exclude government representation. However, organizations which are not controlled by the government but receive substantial direct or indirect funding from the government would fall within the ambit of the sub-clauses.
The Supreme Court held that these bodies can be defined under the term NGOs, and the answer to the question that such NGOs are substantially financed or not needs to be decided by the High Court. The High Court shall give both the parties opportunity to file the documents and decide the issue in light of the law laid down by the bench.