Having planning commission deputy chairperson Montek Singh Ahluwalia and former Principal Secretary to Prime Minister TKA Nair on board has resulted in Public Health Foundation of India being declared a public authority under Right To Information Act on Wednesday.
It is first organization set up under Public Private Partnership (PPP) mode to be declared as a public authority. The plan panel had earlier rejected the Central Information Commission's (CIC) demand to cover PPP projects under the RTI Act saying the commission should take a view on individual case basis.
Now, the commission has said the government should incorporate a specific provision in every PPP agreement to make the project accountable to people through RTI.
The observation was part of the CIC decision overruling the foundation's claims that it was not "owned" by an appropriate government and said that the public servants on its board were in their "private capacity" and not because they represented the government.
The foundation was set up under a PPP agreement with the government.
The PHFI board has 30 members of which five --- Ahluwalia, PK Pradhan, health secretary, VM Katoch, director general of Indian Council of Medical Research, Nair and R K Srivastava, director general health services --- are public servants.
Information commissioner Shailesh Gandhi described the PHFI's argument of they being in their private capacity as "untenable" and said it was difficult to assume that senior public servants on the board in their private capacity. "The Commission can assume that such public servants must be acting on behalf of the government…any other conclusion would be an improper slur on their integrity," the order read.
The commission was hearing an appeal filed by Mumbai based Krishan Lal, who had sought details about constitution of the foundation and its functioning. The foundation rejected his application stating that it was not a public authority under the RTI Act as it was an "autonomous" organisation.
But, the commission found out that the government has given Rs 65 crore, one-third of the initial seed capital, for kick-starting PHFI and rest from Melinda and Bill Gates foundation and other high net worth individuals.
Once set up, Andhra Pradesh, Orissa and Gujarat governments gave it land free of cost to set up institutions. Delhi government spent Rs 13.82 crore to acquire land in Khanjhawla for setting up of Indian Institute of Public Health.
The officials were nominated to ensure that the decisions taken by the foundation are in consonance with the objectives for which the organization was set up. "PHFI refusal to accept its coverage by the RTI Act seems at variance with this," the order read.
As the foundation has placed most of the information on its website, the CIC gave 30 days to PHFI to comply with the provisions of the RTI Act. The foundation will have to pay compensation of Rs 3,000 to Lal for loss and detriment suffered by him in pursuing his complaint with the commission.