The present Writ petition was filed by the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fun (“Fund”) challenging the order passed by the Chief Information Commissioner directing the fund to release the particulars of all institutional donors to the Fund to the applicant, Mr. Aseem Takyar. The Writ was put forth and heard before a Division Bench of the Delhi High Court of Justice S Ravindra Bhat and Justice Sunil Gaur, which concluded with a split decision.
At the outset of the hearing, Justice Ravindra Bhat framed the following two questions:
- Whether PMNRF is a “public authority” as defined under Section 2(h) of the RTI Act?
- Whether the information sought by the Respondent, insofar as it relates to the amount, name and particular of each recipient, beneficiary and donor, could be placed in public domain?
Justice Bhat noted that the Fund came into existence by way of a press note issued in January 1948 and was subsequently registered as a trust for the purpose of exemptions under the Income Tax Act 1973 as the Fund functioned to make ends meet in the hard times owing to rioting and exodus from Pakistan on occasion of partition of India. Justice Bhat opined that the citizens have a right to know of the management of the fund, whose purpose is to provide relief in cases of natural disasters. He also stated that the disbursement of funds was for the purpose of public works, which ultimately becomes a matter of public record. Justice Bhat settled his point of view as follows:
“This court is of the opinion that directions of the Prime Minister inviting contributions and setting up a Committee comprising of the Prime Minister himself along with the Deputy Prime Minister, Finance Minister and other important highest state functionaries as “Managers” of PMNRF cannot be deemed to be or be considered as actions in a personal capacity. Those actions are meant to considered to be actions of the Government which the Prime Minster represents.
Further, registration of PMNRF as a Trust for the purposes of income tax exemption, obtaining of Permanent Account Number (PAN) of the said fund and entrusting the management of the fund qualify as an “order made by the appropriate government”. Therefore, PMNRF must be deemed to be a “public authority” within the meaning of Section 2(h)(d) of the RTI Act.”
However, Justice Gaur noted that the Fund is not a public authority as it is not an outcome of the Parliament or of the Government nor is it managed by the Government. His observations to the basis and functionality of the Fund were as follows:
“The cause for which appellant-Trust was created and exists is purely charitable and neither the funds of this Trust are used for any Government projects nor is this Trust governed by any of the Government policies. So, how can this Trust be labelled as ‘Public Authority’
Thus, I am of the considered view that appellant-Trust does not owe its genesis to a decision or function of Appropriate Government and Funds of appellant Trust do not have any government character as no guidelines can be laid down for disbursement of the amount from the Funds of appellant-Trust and the contributions made to appellant-Trust enjoy exemption under Income-Tax Act like other private Trusts.”
Due to difference in the point of view of the two judges, the issue was further referred to a third Judge on the following point of law:
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?
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