Rajiv Gandhi Foundation (RGF) headed by Congress President Sonia Gandhi is not liable to answer queries made under the RTI Act as it does not fulfil criteria of a public authority, the Central Information Commission has held.
Established on June 21, 1991 to promote former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi's ideals and vision for the country, the foundation runs a number of project for the development of children, women and other marginalised groups.
"To qualify for public authority, an entity should be owned, controlled or substantially financed, directly or indirectly, by the Government. It is nobody’s case that RGF is owned by the Government. Nor is it controlled by the Government in as much as its control vests in a Board of Trustees which is an elected body," a full-bench of the Commission has held.
The bench comprising information commissioners M M Ansari, M L Sharma and Satyananda Mishra said the contribution of the Government is less than four per cent of the total average income of RGF since its inception. "It, therefore, cannot be said to be 'substantially financed' by the Government," it said.
The case relates to an RTI application filed before the foundation by one Shanmuga Patro, who wanted information about the projects run by it. Arguing before the bench, Patro said the formation of RGF was declared by the Government of India through a budget speech by the then Finance Minister.
The Government had also created a corpus for running the affairs of RGF, he claimed. Patro also argued that the foundation is operating from a building built on a land which was initially allotted by the Government at a normal price to the Jawahar Bhawan Trust on perpetual lease dated September 22, 1998.
"Later, based on the request made by the said Trust, the Ministry of Urban Development vide letter dated December 28, 1995 accepted the usage of the said land and building by RGF for absolutely free. The rental value of this real estate in the open market would be huge," he said to buttress his claim that the foundation received substantial funding from the Government and hence is liable to respond to RTI queries.
Rejecting the arguments, the Commission wondered whether rental value of the said premises at market rate is such that it would render RGF into a Public Authority.
"No submissions have been made about the current rental value of the property in-question by the parties...Even if market rental value is attributed to the property in question, in our opinion, it would not render RGF into Public Authority," it said.