In the light of the categorical submission made by the MHRD regarding the status of the Lawrence School Lovedale as a Public Authority, the CIC directed to disclose the information regarding the approval of the buildings, number of canteens/ hostels, etc.
O R D E R
The Appellant vide his RTI application sought information on 08 points regarding the approval of the buildings of Lawrence School Lovedale by the DTCP, number of canteens/ hostels, etc, if any, in the aforementioned school, documentary evidence regarding their licensing by the competent authority u/s 31 (1) of the Food Standards and Safety Act, 2006 and issues related thereto. The Headmistress, Lawrence Public School stated that till the time a Court held otherwise, they would take the stand that the RTI Act did not apply to their institution. Dissatisfied by the response, the Appellant approached the FAA. The order of the FAA, if any, is not on the record of the Commission.
Facts emerging during the hearing:
The following were present:
Appellant: Mr. Rajasekaran M. through VC;
Respondent: Mr. K. Prabhakaran, Headmaster, The Lawrence School, Udhagamandalam through VC; and Mr. Hitender Chand, Assistant, MHRD, Delhi in person;
The Appellant reiterated the contents of his RTI application and stated that the information had not been provided so far. A reference was also made to the decision of the Commission dated 06.08.2013 in File No CIC/RM/A/2012/001012 wherein the School Authorities were directed to provide the relevant information. The representative of MHRD present at the hearing submitted that the School Authorities were not furnishing information despite the fact that they were a Public Authority and as per the letter issued by them No. F. No. 4-24/2007-Sch. 3 dated 01.09.2008, it was declared that the school fell under the ambit of Public Authority as defined under Section 2 (h) of the RTI Act, 2005. The School officials claimed exemption from being a Public Authority and stated that consequent upon the decision of the Commission in August 2013, the details sought by the Appellant had been furnished. The Appellant denied receipt of any information.
The Commission was in receipt of a written submission from the Respondent dated 26.12.2018, wherein it was stated that an Appeal on the point whether Lawrence School, Lovedale was a “Public Authority” was pending before the Commission in File No. CIC/RM/A/2012/001012 (Appellant P.A. Vasan, Chennai). Since the basic question involved in both the cases was the same hence it was requested to club both the Appeals and pass a judgement on merits. Explaining that they were not a Public Authority under Section 2 (h) of the RTI Act, 2005, it was submitted that the Lawrence School was wholly financed by the fees paid by the parents and donations from Old Lawrencians, etc and received no financial support from the Government. The School was also not controlled as such by the Government although the Government was a constituent of the Board. The letter of the MHRD was not a directive nor an order and was only an opinion of the Dy. Educational Advisor. The legal position was quite different and they had taken the advice and opinion of Mr. Joseph Vellapally, Sr, Advocate, New Delhi and member of the Board of Lawrence School who had opined that they do not come within the purview of the definition of the term “Public Authority”. While requesting for a detailed hearing, the Respondent submitted that a hasty order could open a Pandora’s Box of complaints by disgruntled person seeking oblique and tangential information. The MHRD however disagreed with the said response and stated that being a Public Authority they were bound to disclose the information.
On the issue of defining ‘public authority’ under Section 2(h) “public authority” means any authority or body or institution of self-government established or constituted (a) by or under the Constitution; (b) by any other law made by Parliament; (c) by any other law made by State Legislature; (d) by notification issued or order made by the appropriate Government, and includes any- (i) body owned, controlled or substantially financed; (ii) non-Government organization substantially financed, directly or indirectly by funds provided by the appropriate Government; of RTI Act, 2005, the Commission referred to the specific provision under the Act as reproduced below: Section2 (h):
"public authority" means any authority or body or institution of selfgovernment established or constituted— (a) by or under the Constitution; (b) by any other law made by Parliament; (c) by any other law made by State Legislature; (d) by notification issued or order made by the appropriate Government, and includes any— (i) body owned, controlled or substantially financed; (ii) non-Government organisation substantially financed, directly or indirectly by funds provided by the appropriate Government.
In the instant matter, the Commission observed that in File No. CIC/RM/A/2012/001012 dated 0608.2013 and 14.03.2014, it was held as under:
“5. A notice be issued to Cdr (Retd) Suresh Babu, Bursar, Lawrence School, Lovedale, asking him for his written submissions within three weeks as to why in spite of MHRD letter dt 1.9.2008, declaring the school as a public authority, he has failed to provide a response to the appellant with reference to his RTI dt 23.7.12. A copy of this notice be marked to the Headmaster, Lawrence School, Lovedale also for his information and ensuring a prompt response to the Commission.
“9. The Commission would like to draw the attention of The Lawrence School to the Commission’s notice sent for hearing wherein it was desired that the Memorandum of Association, Regulations of School/Society, Constitution of Governing Body, sources of finance for the last three years be provided. This has not been done.
10. The Commission directs the appellant, the Counsel for The Lawrence School and AA in MHRD to submit their written submissions to the Commission within three weeks after which a fresh date would be fixed for hearing. The School should ensure that the documents required by the Commission as mentioned in para 9 above are submitted immediately.”
During the hearing, no satisfactory response was provided by the Respondent (School) regarding submission of the Memorandum of Association, Regulations of School/ Society/ Constitution of Governing Body, Source of Finance for the last three years, etc in compliance with the aforementioned decision of the Commission. Moreover, the Representative of MHRD clearly stated during the hearing that the land and building on which the School existed was owned by the Government of India and gifted to the School without which the School could not function. Moreover the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India in the matter of Thalappalam Ser. Coop.Bank Ltd & Ors. Vs. State of Kerala [2013 (12) SCALE 527] while elaborating on the term “Substantial Financing” held as under:
“38. Merely providing subsidiaries, grants, exemptions, privileges etc., as such, cannot be said to be providing funding to a substantial extent, unless the record shows that the funding was so substantial to the body which practically runs by such funding and but for such funding, it would struggle to exist.”
Keeping in view the facts of the case and the submissions made by both the parties and in the light of the categorical submission made by the MHRD regarding the status of the Respondent School as a Public Authority, the Commission instructs the Respondent, Lawrence School Lovedale to disclose the information sought by the Appellant within a period of 15 days from the date of receipt of this order, as agreed. The Appeal stands disposed accordingly.
Citation: Mr. Rajasekaran M v. CPIO and Headmistress, The Lawrence School Lovedale, The Nilgiris, Ooatacamund Tamil Nadu in Second Appeal No.:- CIC/DSELI/A/2018/185255-BJ, Date of Decision : 01.01.2019