‘Substantially’ funded NGOs to make info public under RTI Act

In a landmark judgement having wider implications on government-funded NGOs and organisations run on public contributions, the State Information Commission (SIC) on Friday ruled that all "substantially" financed NGOs (receiving over Rs 1 crore from state or government grants) are public authority under the Right to Information (RTI) Act and must make their annual 'income and expenditures' public.

In the Commission's order, passed by a two-member bench of Chief Information Commissioner Bhim Sen and Information Commissioner K D Batish, Himachal Pradesh Voluntary Health Association (HPVHA) was declared a public authority under RTI and directed to appoint its public information officer (PIO) within 10 days.

"As per the provisions of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) Act 1971, HPVHA is a public authority under the RTI Act as it is being substantially financed by the government and is eligible for audit by the CAG. The association is directed to designate an official as the PIO within 10 days from the receipt of the order", said the order.

The order was passed in a complaint by one Deepak Sharma, who was denied information by HPVHA as it asserted it was not covered under the RTI Act. The Commission analysed the funding details of the the organization, which was over Rs 1.22 crore during 2008-2009. It claimed that the organisation had been getting substantial aid from the state government and thus cannot be granted exemptions from RTI.

In its order, the commission also stated that in cases where the state gives not so substantial grants (Rs 25 lakh or less) to NGOs, the state or a government agency will be appointed as public authority, which will be required to provide information.

It also added that NGOs that have been raising funds from public contributions should voluntarily place maximum information regarding its activities on the web, which should include its Constitution, bylaws, rules and regulations, its annual income and expenditure and nature of works undertaken or completed.

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