NGOs ‘Substantially Financed’ By Government Amenable To RTI Act

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“We find no reason why any citizen cannot ask for information to find out whether his/her money which has been given to an NGO or any other body is being used for the requisite purpose or not.”

In an important judgment delivered today, the Supreme Court has held that non-governmental organisations [NGO] substantially financed, whether directly or indirectly, by the appropriate government fall within the ambit of ‘public authority’ under Section 2(h) of the Right to Information Act, 2005.

The bench comprising Justice Deepak Gupta and Justice Aniruddha Bose,  observed:

We have no doubt in our mind that the bodies and NGOs mentioned in sub¬clauses (i) and (ii) in the second part of the definition are in addition to the four categories mentioned in clauses (a) to (d). Clauses (a) to (d) cover only those bodies etc., which have been established or constituted in the four manners prescribed therein. By adding an inclusive clause in the definition, Parliament intended to add two more categories, the first being in sub-clause (i), which relates to bodies which are owned, controlled or substantially financed by the appropriate Government. These can be bodies which may not have been constituted by or under the Constitution, by an Act of Parliament or State Legislature or by a notification. Any body which is owned, controlled or substantially financed by the Government, would be a public authority.

By specifically bringing NGOs it is obvious that the intention of the Parliament was to include these two categories mentioned in sub clauses (i) and (ii) in addition to the four categories mentioned in clauses (a) to (d). Therefore, we have no hesitation in holding that an NGO substantially financed, directly or indirectly, by funds provided by the appropriate government would be a public authority amenable to the provisions of the Act.

What is an NGO?

The bench observed:

NGO is not defined under the Act or any other statute as far as we are concerned. In fact, the term NGO appears to have been used for the first time describing an international body which is legally constituted but non-governmental in nature. It is created by natural or legal entities with no participation or representation by the Government. Even NGOs which are funded totally or partially by the Governments essentially maintain the NGO status by excluding Government representations in all their organisations. In some jurisprudence, they are also referred to as civil society organisations.

A society which may not be owned or controlled by the Government, may be an NGO but if it is substantially financed directly or indirectly by the government it would fall within the ambit of sub-clause (ii).