Ker HC | Registrar of Cooperative Societies empowered to collect information from rural agricultural bank, and to furnish the same under RTI Act

“Transparency of information is vital in curbing corruption. The approach of the court must be to attenuate the area of secrecy as much as possible consistently with the requirement of public interest.”

 Kerala High Court: The Division Bench of V. Chitambaresh and R. Narayana Pisharadi, JJ. dismissed an appeal filed by a co-operative society against an order directing furnishing of information sought under the Right to Information Act, 2005.

Appellant – an agricultural development bank – was incorporated under the provisions of the Kerala Co-operative Societies Act, 1969. Respondent’s 4 and 5 sought certain information from the respondent 1 under the RTI Act relating to grant of loans and expenses incurred by the appellant in connection with the cases instituted with regard to certain loan transactions. Appellant was directed by first respondent to furnish the required information to the respondent’s 4 and 5. The said order was challenged in a writ petition wherein the learned Single Judge directed 1st respondent to hear the appellant and 4th respondent and any other interested party before furnishing information to the applicants.

Appellant’s contentions were: (i) that it is not a public authority under RTI Act and thus not liable to furnish the information, and (ii) that the first respondent had no authority to collect information from the appellant, and to furnish such information to respondent’s 4 and 5.

The Court noted that being a cooperative society, appellant was not a ‘public authority’ under Section 2(h) of the RTI Act. Hence, it was not legally obliged to furnish any information sought for by a citizen under RTI Act. However, placing reliance on Thalappalam Service Co-operative Bank Limited v. State of Kerala, (2013) 16 SCC 82 it was opined that Registrar of Cooperative Societies can collect such information from the appellant which he is otherwise empowered to collect under the Kerala Cooperative Societies Act, and furnish that information to the applicant, subject to the restrictions under Section 8 of the RTI Act.

It was observed that the appellant’s case was not that it has no obligation under the Kerala Co-operative Societies Act to provide the information sought for. The right to privacy of a third party was protected by the direction issued by the learned Single Judge to hear the appellant and other interested persons before furnishing the information to the applicants. In view thereof, the writ appeal was dismissed.[Kunnathunad Taluk Primary Co-Operative Agricultural and Rural Development Bank Ltd. v. Registrar of Co-Operative Societies, 2019 SCC OnLine Ker 726, Order dated 26-02-2019]

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