Is the RTI Act applicable to cooperative societies?
In 2006, the Registrar of Cooperative Societies of Kerala issued a circular bringing all cooperative societies in Kerala under RTI. In response to this, the High Court challenged the judgment of the High Court. In view of the implications of the judgment for all states, the Supreme Court heard the case and rendered its judgement on October, 2013. This article provides a summary of the court’s decision.
Information Rights Act (RTI)
In order to protect citizens’ right to information, the RTI Act is an act enacted to ensure that every public authority operates in a transparent and accountable manner.
According to the RTI Act, public authorities
RTI Act’s Section 2(h) defines “public authority” as follows:
“2.In this Act, unless the context otherwise requires: (h) “public authority” means any authority, body, or institution of self-government established (a) by or under the Constitution; (b) by any other law made by Parliament; (c) any other law passed by the State Legislature; (d) Any government notification or order, including: (i) body owned, controlled or substantially financed; (ii) An organization that is primarily funded by the appropriate government, either directly or indirectly.
Is a cooperative society a public authority under the above definition.
What is the status of Cooperative Society as a Public Authority?
Since none of them are bodies or institutions of self-government, or are established or constituted under the Constitution, by a law passed by Parliament, by a law passed by the State Legislature, or by a notification issued or made by the appropriate government, societies are not Public Authorities as defined above.
There may still be some cooperatives under public authority if
- A body whose funds are provided directly or indirectly by the appropriate government.
- An organization that receives substantial funding from the appropriate government directly or indirectly.
What Is The Status Of A Cooperative Society?
As defined by the Cooperative Society Registration Act, a “Society” is a co-operative society;
It is important to distinguish between a body created by a Statute (Cooperative Society Act) and one that is governed in accordance with a Statute after it has been created.
A cooperative society falls under the latter category and is governed by the Societies Act and is not a statutory body, but rather a body corporate within the meaning of Section 37 of the Gujarat Cooperative Societies Act. It has perpetual succession and the right to hold property, enter into contracts, institute and defend suits and legal proceedings, as well as perform all the duties required of it to carry out its purpose.
According to Section 73 of the Societies Act, a society’s final authority rests with its members, while Section 74 states that every society is managed by a managing committee constituted in accordance with its byelaws. Statute states that the general body is the final authority in relation to such societies, not the Registrar of Cooperative Societies or the State Government.
* For ease of reference, the Act and Section have been changed to Gujarat Cooperative Society Act instead of Kerala Cooperative Society Act.
Cooperative Society Registrar
According to Section 2(h) of the Cooperative Societies Act, registrars of cooperative societies are public authorities. The Registrar of Cooperative Societies has been given a wide range of statutory powers under the respective Act under which he is operating as a public authority. A citizen may request information under the RTI Act and he is also obliged to comply with the RTI Act’s obligations. In accordance with Section 2(f) of the RTI Act, he must provide the information enumerated therein, subject to Section 8’s limitations.
According to the Cooperative Societies Act, the Registrar is also permitted to gather information from societies over which he has administrative or supervisory control. To the extent permitted by law, he can also collect the information from the Society in addition to the information he has access to under Section 2(f).
The Registrar is also exempt from disclosing those information if Section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act applies. Information which is “held” or “under the control of public authority” could only be those information which a Registrar of Cooperative Societies can access from a Society under the Cooperative Societies Act. When those information falls into the exempted category mentioned in Section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act, the Registrar is not legally required to provide them. In addition to the Registrar of Co-operative Societies, there may be other public authorities who have access to information, so in a particular situation, the society will have to share that information. However, there should be a statutory basis for the request.
Neither the RTI Act nor the Commercial Cooperatives Act apply to housing cooperatives.