पंजाब प्रेस क्‍लब, जालंधर भी आरटीआई के दायरे में आया

जालंधर : विधानपालिका, कार्यपालिका व न्यायपालिका के बाद अब लोकतंत्र के चौथे स्तम्भ माने जाते प्रेस-मीडिया को भी सूचना अधिकार कानून 2005 ने अपने दायरे में ले लिया है। पंजाब राज्य सूचना आयोग के मुख्य सूचना आयुक्त रमेश इन्द्र सिंह ने अपने 31 जनवरी 2012 के फैसले में देश की सबसे पुरानी मीडिया सिटी जालंधर के प्रेस क्लब (पंजाब प्रेस क्लब, जालंधर) को सूचना अधिकार कानून 2005 के तहत क्लब में तत्काल सूचना अधिकारी की नियुक्ति करने व इस एक्ट के तहत मिलने वाले आवेदनों को नियमानुसार डील करने का आदेश दिया है।

पंजाब प्रेस क्लब, जालंधर में लोकतंत्र बहाल करने की मांग पर गौर न किए जाने के विरोधस्वरूप जालंधर के पत्रकार राजेश कपिल ने सूचना अधिकार कानून 2005 की राह पकड़ी थी लेकिन क्लब के संयुक्त सचिव ने राजेश कपिल की अर्जी को खारिज कर दिया था। इसके विरोध में राजेश कपिल ने करीब 3 माह पूर्व राज्य सूचना आयोग, पंजाब में शिकायत दाखिल की थी, जिसका नोटिस मिलने पर क्लब के प्रधान माननीय आरएन सिंह क्लब में लोकतंत्र बहाल करने के लिए तैयार हो गए लेकिन कुछ पदाधिकारी आरटीआई एक्ट बारे विस्तार जानकारी न होने के कारण केस लडऩे को तैयार हो गए।

गत 24 जनवरी 2012 को फाइनल बहस के बाद मुख्य सूचना आयुक्त रमेश इन्द्र सिंह ने इस केस का फैसला 31 जनवरी 2012 के लिए रिजर्व रख लिया था लेकिन इस बीच क्लब के प्रधान माननीय आरएन सिंह उपचाराधीन हो गए और केस की सुनवाई प्रक्रिया में शामिल नहीं हो पाए। वह इस मामले को भी मीडिएशन से निपटाना चाहते थे लेकिन बिगड़े स्वास्थ्‍य के कारण ऐसा संभव न हुआ, अंतत: फाइनल बहस की अगली तारीख को उनका निधन हो गया। ताजा फैसले के बाद अब पंजाब प्रेस क्लब, जालंधर में पहली बार चुनाव होने की संभावना पैदा हो गई है।


STATE INFORMATION COMMISSION, PUNJAB

SCO No. 84-85, Sector 17-C, CHANDIGARH.

(www.infocommpunjab.com)

Shri Rajesh Kapil r/o 606, Gali No.12-B,

Avtar Nagar, Near T.V.Centre, Nakodar Chowk,

Jalandhar-144003.            ————-Complainant.

                        Vs.

The Public Information Officer

o/o the Punjab Press Club, Jalandhar.        ————-Respondent.

CC No.2890  of 2011

ORDER

The complainant-Shri Rajesh Kapil had moved an application on 12.9.2011 to the PIO/Punjab Press Club, Jalandhar seeking voluminous information on 15 issues.  The respondent-club, however, denied the information on 26.9.2011 taking the plea that it is not a public authority under the Right to Information Act, 2005.  Aggrieved, Shri Rajesh Kapil moved the State Information Commissioner under Section 18 of the Act ibid.

2.  I have heard the parties and gone through their respective pleadings.  The complainant pleads that the respondent club has been built on a piece of land belonging to the Municipal Authorities, Jalandhar.  This land was leased out on a nominal amount of Rs.1/- per annum for a period of 20 years. The complainant has relied on the contents of the website of the Club, wherein it has been stated that Chief Minister, S. Parkash Singh Badal had gave a grant of Rs.5.00 lacs for construction of the club building and the then Chief Minister Capt. Amarinder Singh also gave an amount of Rs.20.00 lacs for the construction of the building.  In addition, it was submitted that Ministers and elected representatives have been giving grants to the respondent-club from time to time.  The complainant pleaded that financial assistance received by the respondent-club including the leased land amounts to substantial financial assistance within the meaning of Section 2(h) of the Act ibid.  The respondent club is a public authority and that it has violated the statutory provisions of the Act ibid.  The complainant further sought imposition of penalty of Rs.25,000/- under Section 20 and award of compensation of Rs.10,000/- under Section 19(8)(b) of the Act for the determent suffered by him due to non-furnishing of the information.

3.  The respondent-club, however, denied that it is a public authority under the Act.  It was, however, admitted that the land belonging to the Municipal Authority, Jalandhar has been leased out on a nominal amount of Rs.1/- per annum for a period of 20 years, but it was averred that this would not by itself make the respondent a public authority.  It was further argued that the funds given by the Minister/Member of Parliaments/Members of Legislative Assembly out of discretionary funds do not amount to financial assistance given by government and therefore, the facts pleaded by the complainant would not bring the respondent-club within the definition of public authority under Section 2(h) of the Act.

4.  The respondent has not denied that the club has been built on a land provided by the Municipal Authorities on a nominal lease of Rs.1/- for a period of 20 years.  Could the respondent-club have come up without this facility of leased land provided at a nominal rate?  The answer obviously is no.  Therefore, the fact that the land for the club building was provided by an instrumentality of the Government at nominal rate would amount to substantial financial assistance within the meaning of Section 2(h).  This Commission has held in a number of judgments that the financial assistance need not necessarily be in the form of cash or money.  Under Section 2(h)(d)(ii) of the Act, non-Government organisations substantially financed directly or indirectly by funds provided by the appropriate Government are also public authorities.  The expression “directly or indirectly” would bring all financial assistance, whether in the form of cash or kind within the ambit of Section 2(h)(d).  What is important is whether a private organisation has financially gained by direct or indirect facilitation or enablement of the Government and whether such gain is substantial. If so, such a private institution would deemed to be a public authority under the Act.  The antonymous of the word “substantial” are inconsequential, insignificant, little, trivial or negligible. If the financial assistance, direct or indirect, is not trivial or negligible, it must be construed to mean substantial. Hon’ble Kerala High Court in Thalapatham Service Cooperative Bank vs. Union of India  [2009(3)CGS-273 (Kerala)] while examining the meaning of the term substantial has held  that “substantial” has to be understood in contravention to the word trivial.  Where the funding is not trivial to be ignored as pittance, the same would be substantial funding because it comes from public fund. Similarly, Hon’ble Allahabad High Court in 2008(4) Civil Court Cases 352 (Tara Singh Girls High School vs. State of Uttar Pradesh) had held that whenever there is iota of nexus regarding control and finance of public authority over the activities of the private body, the same would fall under the provisions of Section 2(h) of the Act ibid.  This Commission in CC-3315/2010 decided on 12.5.2011 held that when a private organization financially gains by direct or indirect enablement or facilitation of Government and when such gain is substantial, such private organisation must be held as “Public Authority” under Section 2(h) of the Act.

5.  The respondent has also conceded the fact that it has received grants from Ministers/M.Ps./M.L.As, from time to time.  The website of the respondent-club itself shows that an amount of Rs.25.00 lacs was given by the Chief Ministers of Punjab for the construction of the club building.  When a Minister/M.P./M.L.A. gives grant, money flows out of public fund.  The fact that the grant is given at the discretion of a Minister/M.P./M.L.A. would not make any difference, because the money does not come from the personal pocket of the Minister/M.P./M.L.A., but from the State budget duly voted upon by the concerned Legislative Assembly.  For what purpose this amount is given is also not the relevant, so long as grant is actually received from the State resources by a private body.  In this regard one may refer to the decision of Hon’ble Delhi High Court. While considering the decision of the Central Information Commission  in Ms. Navneet Kaur vs. Electronic and Software Export Promotion Council held on 19.7.2006 (Reported in Manu/DE/2768/2008) that “whether funding is for specific programmes /projects carried on by the petitioners or funds are given not for any specific programme to the petitioners, will not make the petitioners, not financed by the Government.  The Government can give funds without specifying as to how the funds are to be utilized”. Therefore, the purpose for which funds were given is not material, but the fact that respondent received funds is relevant. What is material is the source of funding i.e. from the State exchequer.  Therefore, it must be held that the grant received by respondent-club from Ministers/MPs/MLAs which flowed from the state exchequer amounts to funding within the meaning of Section 2(h)(d)(ii).

6.  From the foregoing, I have no hesitation in holding that the respondent-club has received substantial financial assistance from the State. It is a public authority within the meaning of Section 2(h).  The respondent is directed to appoint a PIO and a first appellate authority within 15 days of this order and comply with all the provisions of the Right to information Act, 2005.

7.  The respondent has raised an issue that the complainant has sought very voluminous information on 15 points and each point contains large number of queries for information.  Some of the information being sought is very old and goes back to the date when the club was first established. This is very old record and may not be available.  The plea of the respondent is that searching for information would disproportionately divert the resources of the public authority.

8.  Here, one may refer to the decision of the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India  in Appeal No.6454/2011 tiled CBSE AND ANOHER vs. Adityabandopadhaya and others decided on 9.8.2011.  The Hon’ble Supreme Court has held that “the Act should not be allowed to be misused or abused, to become a tool to obstruct the national development and integration, or to destroy the peace, tranquility and harmony among its citizens.  Nor should it be converted into a tool of oppression or intimidation of honest officials striving to do their duty.  The nation does not want a scenario where 75% of the staff of public authorities spends 75% of their time in collecting and furnishing information to applicants instead of discharging their regular duties.”. Keeping this observation of the Hon’ble Supreme Court in mind, I have no hesitation in saying that the voluminous queries of the complainant seeking old information from the date of inception of club till today will certainly disproportionately divert the time and resources of the respondent-public authority and may lead to a situation where its meager staff strength is left doing nothing, but preparing the reply for days together.  It would, therefore, be appropriate that the complainant is first allowed an inspection of the record by the respondent-club, and thereafter the complainant may identify such documents as he would like to obtain attested copies.  He shall then notify to the club these documents and the respondent-club shall furnish him attested copies of these documents, keeping in view the various provisions of the Act.

9.  The complainant has also raised the issue of imposition of penalty and award of compensation.  Given the facts of this case, it is obvious that the information was denied  by the respondent-club because it did not considered itself to be a public authority.  The denial of information was due to lack of proper understanding of the provisions of Right to Information Act, 2005 rather than any willful or intentional effort to violate the Act.  In fact in its written reply, the respondent has clearly stated that they would furnish the information, in case they are declared to be public authority by the State Information Commission. The respondent is essentially a voluntary organisation and its misinterpretation of law, given its private character, cannot be construed as unreasonable. Every organisation has a right to agitate its legal stand before the Commission or before judicial authorities and any delay that may occur because of the legal proceedings would not amount to be denial or delay as contemplated under Section 20 of the Right to Information Act, 2005.  Therefore, I do not deem it a fit case to award penalty or compensation to the complainant.

10.  The case is closed with the above directions.

January 31, 2012.

   (R.I. Singh)

Chief Information Commissioner

  Punjab

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