In what could open up a pandora box of RTI applications in private educational institutions, the Central Information Commission (CIC) has termed schools receiving grants from the government as "public authority" under the RTI Act. This means that citizens can seek information from these schools as from any other government organisation as per regulations of the Act.
In Delhi, the first private school to come under RTI scrutiny is Sanskriti School. On Tuesday, information commissioner OP Kejriwal rejected the school’s contention that it was not a ‘public authority’. The school’s plea was rejected on two grounds - first that it received grants from the Central government and second that wife of the Cabinet Secretary is ex-officio chairperson of the Board of Management of the school.
The verdict was delivered on the application of Manju S Kumar, who had filed an RTI application with the school principal in July 2006. She had sought information about the contributions received from government departments and NGOs since the school’s inception. She also wanted to know about admission given to class IX students during March 15 2006 and July 2006 and the children of class VII who have taken transfer certificate during the period. Kumar had asked for details of the job of parents of all children studying in the school.
The application was rejected at the onset itself, as the school termed itself as a private school run by the wives of Civil Services Officers and was not a public authority as defined under the RTI Act.
Kumar did not agree and filed an appeal with CIC in August stating that Sanskriti School has received huge government contributions for developing the infrastructure like purchase of land and construction of buildings. Even to the commission’s show cause notice, the principal reiterated that the school was a not a public authority as it was registered under the societies Act.
Thereafter, Kejriwal called for the school principal for a personal appearance. During the hearing, the principal admitted that the school had received ‘substantial’ grant from the government for setting up infrastructure in its initial stage, although the government does not play any role in day-to-day affairs of the school.
However, wives of senior bureaucrats have overall management control over the school. Wife of the cabinet secretary is ex-offico chairperson of the Board of Management and wives of many civil servants are on the board, the principal told the commission.
Based on the admission, Kejriwal directed the school to impart the sought information to the applicant Kumar by February 15 and response to all RTI applications.