They don’t come under the definition of ‘public authority’ in the Act
Cooperative societies will not come under “public authority” as defined under Section 2(h) of the Right to Information Act and hence are not liable to provide information to the general public under this law, the Supreme Court has held.
The powers exercised by the Registrar of Cooperative Societies and others under the Cooperative Societies Act are “only regulatory or supervisory” and will not amount to dominating or interfering with the management or affairs of the society so as to control it. “Supervisory or general regulation, under the statute, of cooperative societies, which are body corporate, does not render [the] activities of the body so regulated subject to such control of the state so as to bring it within the meaning of “state” or instrumentality of the state,” said a Bench of Justices K.S. Radhakrishnan and A.K. Sikri.
Writing the judgment, Justice Radhakrishnan said citizens could have access only to information “held” by and under the “control of public authorities,” with limitations. “If the information is not statutorily accessible by a public authority, as defined in Section 2(h) of the RTI Act, evidently, that information will not be under the control of the public authority. Resultantly, it will not be possible for citizens to secure access to that information…”
The Bench pointed out that citizens forming cooperative societies “is now raised to the level of a fundamental right and the state shall endeavour to promote their autonomous functioning. Parliament, with a view to enhancing public faith in the cooperative institutions and insulating them from avoidable political or bureaucratic interference brought in the Constitutional (97th Amendment) Act, 2011.”
Recognising that the right to privacy was a sacrosanct facet of Article 21 of the Constitution, the law put in a lot of safeguards to protect the right under Section 8(j) of the RTI Act, the Bench said. “If the information sought for is personal and has no relationship with any public activity or interest or it will not sub-serve the larger public interest, the public authority or the officer concerned is not legally obliged to provide that information.”
The Bench disposed of appeals filed by Thalappalam Service Coop. Bank Ltd. and others against a Kerala High Court judgment, which held that cooperative societies would come within the ambit of the RTI Act. “We have found, on facts, that the societies, in these appeals, are not public authorities and, hence, not legally obliged to furnish any information sought for by a citizen under the RTI Act,” the Bench held.