In a spate of recent cases in Punjab,information seekers are being turned away by public institutions on the ground that they are not covered under the RTI Act,and are not obliged to share information about their functioning. This despite the fact that almost all these institutions have received financial aid from the state government.
In nearly all such cases,the information seekers had to knock the doors of Information Commission,which in turn,directed these institutions to adopt transparency regarding their functioning.
Take the case of Public College of Education,Samana. In May last year,Samana resident,Ashwani Garg,sought information from the college on 10 issues under the RTI Act. His request was declined on the ground that the college is not a public authority.
The authorities stated in the court that it was an unaided private college and was not receiving any grant from the state government or the University Grants Commission. However,after looking into the affairs of the college,the Chief Information Commissioner (CIC),Punjab,RI Singh,concluded that the Public College had received grants from the state,and was run by a governing body predominantly consisting of government officials. The Commission concluded that the college was a public authority and was legally bound to give information in conformity with the RTI Act.
In another case,Government Shivalik College,Naya Nangal,denied information sought by RTI applicant Anukaran Sohal regarding the Higher Education Institute Society (HEIS) of the college. The college held that HEIS is a self-financed registered society.
However,the CIC concluded the Society was being run and managed by employees on the rolls of the Government College. Also,it was funded indirectly through the infrastructure and premises provided by the College.
The Commission held that HEIS was a public authority,and directed it to furnish the information to the applicant.
Similarly,Lakha Singh Bahra Charitable Trust at Chachoki village denied information to RTI applicant RC Tandon on the ground that it was not a public authority and was managed by private trustees.
However,after looking into the affairs of the college,CIC held that the Trust got the land from Punjab Planning and Urban Development Authority,Jalandhar,at a concessional rate and also availed Income Tax exemption. It received grant-in-aid from various ministers from their discretionary funds. Te CIC held that the Trusts was a public authority and must furnish the information to the applicant.
In yet another case,RTI seeker Balwinder Singh was denied information by Virsa Vihar Society of Amritsar regarding the expenditure incurred by the Society on organising the Heritage Virasat Mela in February last year.
Perusing the case,the CIC observed that the Society operates from a government building. For the Virasat Mela,it received Rs 20 lakh from the Director,Cultural Affairs (Punjab),on the recommendation of the Deputy Commissioner.
In this light,the Commission concluded that the Society is a public authority and directed it to give information to the applicant within the provisions of the RTI act.