The Punjab state information commission on Friday declared Christian Medical College and Hospital (CMCH) a public authority. The double bench comprising chief information commissioner Ramesh Inder Singh and state information commissioner Surinder Awasthi directed the CMCH to appoint a public information officer (PIO) in compliance with provisions of the Right To Information (RTI) Act, 2005.
The commissioners, in their order, said, "We find that the CMC, Ludhiana, is drawing two-fold financial privilege, facilitated by the state. It has been exempted from house tax. The complainant has placed on record a copy of a letter dated November 18, 2011, of the Municipal Corporation, Ludhiana, which clearly states that the CMC is not paying house tax as it has been exempted, being a charitable trust."
It has also been admitted that the CMC hospital is a society registered under Section 12 (a) of the Income Tax Act and has been granted exemption under Section 80 (g) of the Act. The relief granted under Section 80 (g) may be a tax relief to the donor, but the fact remains that because of this statutory enablement, financial benefits accrue to the CMC. Therefore, such benefit must be construed to fall within provisions of Section 2 (h) of the RTI Act, the commission said.
The benefits drawn by the CMC are certainly not trivial or inconsequential and there is more than an iota of nexus between the benefit received by it and the act of its facilitation by the government. For this reason, the CMC must be held to be a public authority under Section 2 (h) of the Act, the commission added.
Munish Kumar Seth, a resident of Faridkot, had moved an application in 2011 to the PIO/director, CMCH, seeking information about Ashwani Sehgal, a stenographer in the department of ophthalmology. But the CMCH refused to provide the information, stating that the hospital was not a public authority and that the information sought was not in public interest.
After a complaint to the information commission, the complainant was told to approach Baba Farid University of Health Sciences (BFUHS) to seek information. Despite directions by the university, the CMCH again denied information, forcing the information seeker to again move the commission with a complaint.
The complainant again moved an application to BFUHS, but the university PIO said in a letter dated June 14, 2011, that the CMCH authorities had declined to give information.
Thereafter, the complainant filed a fresh application on January 4, 2012, wherein he brought on record that the governing body of the CMCH includes government nominees, namely the director, research and medical education, Punjab; director, health services, Punjab; director, general health services, government of India; and the nursing adviser, government of India.
These four government nominees directly participate in the management and running of the institute.
However, the state information commission stated that it was not a fit case to impose any penalty and that the CMCH had a reasonable cause to deny information. Complicated issues of law were involved and denial of information by the respondent public authority was not unreasonable under the circumstances, the commission said.
When asked to comment on the issue, CMCH director Dr AG Thomas said, "We have not yet received the order, but if it is against the CMCH, we will appeal in the Punjab and Haryana high court. The CMCH believes in transparency. We share information which is in public interest; in this case, it was sought in a matter that involves two individuals and is sub judice and the hospital could not be party to it."