The 97th amendment to the Constitution is intended to rejuvenate co-operative societies through more autonomy,professional management,prevention of interference and transparency in functioning. It also makes floating of a cooperative society a fundamental right of citizens.
A year after the amendment,there is a debate in Maharashtra where the cooperative movement is very strong,about applicability of RTI to make cooperatives more transparent. The office of the Cooperative Commissioner is yet to receive any clear guidelines on applicability of RTI to cooperative societies.
There is a clamour from various sections of society for speedy inclusion of the sector under RTI.
Roughly 1/6th of the countrys economy is controlled by the cooperative sector,including cooperative banks,credit societies and farmers cooperatives. For want of proper record-keeping,the current status of the cooperative sectors is hazy,with figures from Maharashtra showing 2,18,320 cooperative societies with a total membership of 5.42 crore. Activists said cooperatives in the state have always been a hotbed of political control and politicking.
Making a strong case for bringing cooperative bodies under the RTI,activist Vijay Kumbhar said as per the RTI Act,a body constituted by or under the Constitution can be called a public authority. With the amendment,the right to form cooperatives has come under fundamental rights and thus it qualifies as a body constituted under the Constitution and the RTI would be applicable to them, he argued.
Kumbhar said cooperatives have the status of local self governments,listed under Part IX of the Constitution. (Cooperatives are listed under Part IX B). So,these societies would come under RTI as all local self government bodies are within the ambit of RTI, he said.
Prahlad Kachre,director of Yashwantrao Chavan Academy of Development Administrations RTI cell,however,said inclusion of cooperative bodies under RTI should be decided on merit. Cooperative societies are not technically formed by the government. They are registered by respective authorities and I do not know if they qualify for RTI, he said.
Trustee of PGCT,on the other hand,said as cooperatives are registered under cooperative laws,they qualify for inclusion under RTI. It is not expected that the state government would immediately come up with a circular asking cooperative societies to appoint public information officers and first appellate authorities to felicitate implementation of RTI, he said.
Cooperative commissioner Madhukar Chowdhury said RTI would be applicable,but only for members of cooperatives. We have not received any directions from the government about applicability of RTI to cooperatives for the general public till date, he said.