Holding that an educational institute and the trust managing it cannot be termed as separate legal entities, the Bombay high court (HC) ruled that public trusts running aided educational institutes are bound to disclose information sought under the Right to Information Act, 2005.
The court was hearing a petition filed by the Shikshan Prasarak Mandali - a public trust managing several aided educational institutions in Pune - challenging the state information commissioner's September 2010 order on disclosure of information under RTI.
Advocate Bhalchandra Radkar had sought some information on the trust under the RTI Act. However, in October 2009, the trust rejected his plea stating that the provisions of the Act do not apply to the trust. Radkar then appealed to the state information commissioner, who held that the trust was covered under the legislation and directed it to disclose the information sought by the lawyer. The trust moved the high court last year challenging the state information commissioner's order.
Narendra Bandivadekar, counsel for the trust, contended that though several educational institutions managed and controlled by the trust received grant-in-aid from the state government, the trust receives no government aid. Consequently, the trust need not disclose information under the RTI Act.
Justice Dharmadhikari rejected the contention stating it would defeat and frustrate the very purpose of the legislation. To view an educational institution in isolation and as a separate legal entity would mean that citizens' paramount and predominant right to information would be rendered nugatory.
The court also took note of the fact that the power to utilise the grant received from the government is with the managing committee of the trust. It observed that the accounts of the educational institutions run by Shikshan Prasarak Mandali and of the trust were consolidated and even the audit was single.
The court dismissed the petition filed by the trust. It, however, continued the three-month the stay granted in March 2011 to the order of the information commissioner to allow the trust to approach the Supreme Court against the order.