Division Bench of Delhi HC splits as to whether PM National Relief Fund is a ‘public authority’ under RTI Act

Delhi High Court: The Division Bench comprising of S. Ravindra Bhat and Sunil Gaur, JJ., gave different opinions as to whether Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund (PMNRF) is a ‘public authority’ under Section 2(h)(d) of the Right to Information Act, 2005.

Initially, information was sought by the respondent regarding information related to amount, name and particular of each recipient, beneficiary and donor during the information period. The CPIO, Prime Minister’s Office, gave partial information and withheld the rest on the grounds that PMNRF was not a ‘public authority’ within the meaning of Section 2(h) (d) of the Act. The Chief Information Commissioner, in appeal by the respondent, decided that PMNRF was a ‘public authority’ within the Act, and hence the Fund was directed to provide information as sought by the respondent.

The appellant Fund filed the appeal before the learned Single Judge which was dismissed. Hence, the letters patent application. The High Court had to decide on the issue as framed. The Bench gave a split decision on the question of the Fund being a ‘public authority’ or not.

S. Ravindra Bhat, J. was of the view that the Fund was a ‘public authority’ within the Act. According to Bhat, J. the directions given by the Prime Minister and other State functionaries as ‘Managers’ of the fund cannot be deemed to be actions in personal capacity. Those are deemed to be actions of the Government which the PM represents. Thus, PMNRF must be deemed to be a ‘public authority’ under the Act. Further, Section 8(1)(e) of the Act that provides exemption from furnishing of information aims at striking a balance between right to information and right to privacy. In the present case, the Fund does not offer any service to the donors or the beneficiaries, therefore the relationship between the donors/beneficiaries and the Fund does not take colour of a ‘fiduciary relationship’. Holding PMNRF to be ‘public authority’ under the Act, Bhat, J. upheld the impugned judgment.

On the other hand, Sunil Gaur, J. took a different view. According to him, the Fund does not owe its existence to the Government. It was a creation of the then PM in his ex-officio capacity. He relied on Thalappalam Service Co-operative Bank Ltd. v. State of Kerala,  (2013) 16 SCC 82, to hold that mere supervision or regulation of a Trust would not make it a ‘public authority’ within the meaning of Section 2(h)(d) of the RTI Act. According to the learned Judge, PMNRF was neither constituted by Parliament nor is it managed by the government functionaries in their official capacity. Gaur, J. held that PMNRF is not a ‘public authority’ under the RTI Act, and therefore the issue regarding the information sought being in the public domain did not survive for consideration. He accordingly ordered for the impugned order to be set aside.

By reason of divergence in opinion, the Bench directed the matter to be placed before the Acting Chief Justice Gita Mittal to refer the following question to a third Judge:

“Whether the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund is a “public authority” within the meaning of Section 2(h)(d) of the Right to Information Act, 2005 and accordingly, whether information pertaining to various transactions made by the Fund can be obtained by preferring an application under the said Act?”

[Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund v. Aseem Takyar,  2018 SCC OnLine Del 9191, dated 23-05-2018]

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