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Cooperative Societies are not subject to the RTI Act

Syllabus: Governance: RTI Act

Source: TH

Context: The Madras High Court ruled that cooperative societies are not subject to the RTI Act. The court set aside a Tamil Nadu Information Commission order that had directed a cooperative society to disclose loan details.

Justice V. Bhavani Subbaroyan stated that cooperative societies do not qualify as ‘public authorities’ under Section 2(h) of the RTI Act. The court’s decision aligns with previous rulings, including a 2013 Supreme Court verdict.


Positive Implications of the Judgement:

  1. Autonomy of Cooperative Societies: Reinforces the independence of cooperative societies by not categorizing them as public authorities under the RTI Act.
  2. Legal Clarity: Provides a clear legal interpretation that can guide similar cases in the future.
  3. Operational Efficiency: Cooperative societies can operate without the administrative burden of complying with RTI requests, potentially increasing efficiency.


Negative Implications:

  1. Reduced Transparency: Limits public access to information on cooperative societies, potentially reducing transparency and accountability.
  2. Potential for Misuse: Without RTI oversight, there may be a higher risk of corruption or misuse of funds within cooperative societies.
  3. Public Distrust: The decision might foster distrust among the public, particularly if cooperative societies are seen as non-transparent entities.


About RTI Act, 2005:

  1. Objective: Ensures transparency and accountability by providing citizens access to information from public authorities.
  2. Constitutional Basis: Rooted in the right to freedom of speech and expression (Article 19 of the Indian Constitution) [State of UP vs. Raj Narain Case (1975)].
  3. Key Provisions: Time limits for information provision, proactive disclosure, appointment of Public Information Officers (PIOs), and establishment of Central and State Information Commissions.


Public Authorities (PAs) under the RTI Act, 2005:

  1. Definition: Includes government bodies, state-controlled entities, and NGOs significantly funded by the government.
  2. Duties: Maintain organized records, regularly disclose information, and designate PIOs for information dissemination.


Exemptions under Section 8:

  1. Information affecting the sovereignty, integrity, or security of India.
  2. Information forbidden by courts or constituting contempt of court.
  3. Information breaching Parliament’s or State Legislature’s privilege.
  4. Commercial confidences, trade secrets, and intellectual property (unless public interest requires disclosure).
  5. Personal information invades privacy without public interest.


Cooperatives in India and issues faced by them: 

Meaning: Co-operatives are voluntary, democratic, and autonomous organisations controlled by their members who actively participate in their policies and decision-making.


Efforts to promote them:

  • After independence, the first five-year plan (1951-56) emphasised the adoption of co-operatives to cover various aspects of community development.
  • 97th Amendment (2011): It inserted Article 43B in the DPSP of the Indian Constitution inserted,
    • As per Article 43B. States shall endeavour to promote voluntary formation, autonomous functioning, democratic control and professional management of cooperative societies.


Issues faced by the co-operatives:

  • Inadequacies in governance
  • Politicisation and the excessive role of the government
  • Inability to ensure active membership
  • Lack of efforts for capital formation
  • Inability to attract and retain competent professionals
  • Elections to co-operative boards have been postponed indefinitely


What are Multi-state Co-operative Societies?

  • Regulated by the Multi-State Co-operative Societies Act 2002these are societies that have operations in more than one state (like FPOs).
  • Part IXB (also inserted by the 97th amendment) of the Indian constitution is applicable only to multi-state co-operative societies (as per an SC verdict), as states have the jurisdiction to legislate over state co-operative societies.


Read about The Multi-State Cooperative Societies (Amendment) Bill 2023: Here


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