Cooperative Societies are covered under the ambit of RTI Act

Bombay High Court: Jalgaon Jillha Urban Cooperative Banks Association Ltd., Credit Societies and other financial institutions registered under the Maharashtra Cooperative Societies Act 1960 filed a writ before the Bombay High Court contending that in view of the provisions of Section 2(h) and Section 8 of the Right to Information Act 2005, cooperative institutions registered under the Cooperative Societies Act cannot be treated as public authority and Section 34-A of the Banking Regulation Act, 1949 provides that such institutions are not bound to disclose certain information which, according to them, is confidential in nature.

It was also contended by the petitioners that these institutions are not receiving financial aid from the Government directly or indirectly and so the provisions of the Act cannot be made applicable to them. In spite of the provisions in existence, the authorities created under the Cooperative Societies Act are insisting the institutions to pass on information in respect of the conduct of business and other things of the societies to the members or even general public under the provisions of the RTI Act. They sought a writ of mandamus restraining the officers of the cooperative department and/or their subordinates from supplying any information to the members or general public, which, according to the said societies was confidential in the commercial interests of the said societies and for that purpose issue necessary orders.

Supporting the contentions, the petitioner cited Agricultural Produce Market Committee v. Meghraj Pundlikrao Dongre, 2010 SCC OnLine Bom 1705, wherein it was held that the provision of the Act cannot be used against cooperative institutions registered under the Maharashtra Cooperative Societies Act, 1960. In reply to this, RBI v. Jayantilal N. Mistry, (2016) 3 SCC 525 was cited in which the Supreme Court has discussed the effect of the provisions of the Banking Regulation Act, 1949, Reserve Bank of India Act, 1934, the Credit Information Companies Act, 2005, the State Bank of India Act, 1955 and the Official Secrets Act, 1923 on the provisions made under the RTI Act. The defence taken for such institutions of fiduciary relationship and possible adverse effect on economic interests of the States was considered by the Apex Court. The Apex Court held that the decision given by the Chief Information Officer directing these institutions to supply information cannot be set aside.

The Court in this case observed that the petitioners and its members, cooperative institutions, are registered under the Maharashtra Cooperative Societies Act, 1960 and are bodies created under statute and right from the registration till the liquidation there is control over these institutions of the authority created under the same Act and the authority steps in to take decision on the rights of the members. Therefore, such institutions cannot act independently and the apex bodies are created for such institutions. The Bench highlighted that even Articles 38, 39, 43 and 48 of the Directive Principles of State Policy show that to some extent such institutions are discharging duty of State.

The Court noted that the provisions of the Maharashtra Cooperative Societies Act show that the authority under the Act can do audit and inquiry into irregularities and there is power of suspension of managing committee and removal of members with the authority under the Act. For such purposes, the Court held that the cooperative institution is bound to supply the record to the authority.

The Court elucidated further by reading the provisions of the Maharashtra Cooperative Societies Act with definition of information given in Section 2(f) of the RTI Act that everything which is mentioned in the definition of information needs to be supplied by the cooperative institution to the authority above it. Further, it stated that the definition of ‘Public Authority’ given in Section 2(h) shows that such public authority can be created by any law made by the State Legislature. Accordingly, the petition was dismissed by the High Court. [Jalgaon Jillha Urban Cooperative Banks Association Ltd. v. State of Maharashtra, 2017 SCC OnLine Bom 151, decided on 13.02.2017]

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