Statement of Object & Reasons: “An Act to provide for setting out the practical regime of right to information for citizens to secure access to information under the control of public authorities, in order to promote transparency and accountability in the workings of every public authority…”
The object of the RTI Act is to promote an “informed citizenry”, “transparency of information”, “to contain corruption” and to “hold Governments and their instrumentalities accountable to the governed”.
Who can apply for information under the Right to Information Act, 2005?
In conformity with its objects and reasons, Section 3 of the RTI Act stipulates that “Subject to the provisions of this Act, all citizens shall have the right to information”. The definition of “right to information” itself is set forth in Section 2(j) of the RTI Act and states inter alia that the right to information means the right to information accessible under the RTI Act which is held by or under the control of any public authority and includes the right to inspect work, documents records, taking notes, obtaining information in the form of diskettes etc.
Section 6 of the RTI Act, is the provision regarding “Request for obtaining information” and states that “A person who desires to obtain any information under this Act, shall…”. Inasmuch as the word used in this provision is “a person” as opposed to a “citizen” it appears that any “person” can apply for information under the provisions of the RTI Act. The term “person” is defined under section 3(42) of the General Clauses Act, 1897 which states that “person” shall include any company, or association or body of individuals, whether incorporated or not.
Can a Company file a request seeking information under the RTI Act?
In view of what is stated above, i.e. information can be requested for by a “person” (which term includes a juristic person such as a company), it may not be necessary to go into this specific question. There are cases where a company has requested for information under the provisions of the RTI Act and the requested information has been provided by a public authority [See: Perfect Machine Tools Co. Ltd. vs. State of Maharashtra & Ors. 2008(2) MhLJ 404 – where a private company sought for some information from the Municipal Corporation of Greater Bombay by way of a RTI Application and the same was provided; National Mineral Development Corporation vs. Government of India & Ors. WP(C) No. 8004/2007].
In J.C. Talukdar vs. C.E.(E) CPWD Kolkata (CIC/WB/C/2007/00104 & 105 dated 17 May 2007), the Applicant / Mr. Talukdar, requested for certain information from the CPWD, Kolkata, in his capacity as the Managing Director of one Ganesh Electric Stores. The said request was refused under Section 3 of the RTI Act. Consequently Mr. Talukdar filed an appeal before the CIC. In the course of dealing with the said Appeal the CIC observed as follows:
“This is at heart a question of whether a company or its director will fall under the definition of citizen under the RTI Act. A company or a corporation is a “legal person” and, as such, it has a legal entity. This legal entity is distinct from their shareholders, managers, managing directors. This is a settled position in law since the Solomon’s case decided long back by the House of Lords. They have rights and obligations and can sue and are sued in a court of law. Section 3 of the RTI Act confers “right to information” on all “citizens”. A “citizen” under the Constitution Part II that deals with “citizenship” can only be a natural born person and it does not even by implication include a legal or a juristic person…
The objective of the Right to Information Act is to secure access to information to all citizens in order to promote transparency and accountability. The Hon’ble Supreme Court in Bennett Coleman Co. Vs. Union of India (1972) 2 SCC 788 held that a shareholder is entitled to protection of Article 19 and that an individual’s right is not lost by reason of the fact that he is a shareholder of the company. The Bank Nationalization Case has also established the view that the fundamental rights of shareholders as citizens are not lost when they associate to form a company. In Delhi Cloth & General Mills Co. Ltd. (decided on 21 July 1983), the Apex Court observed that the judicial trend is in the direction of holding that in the matter of fundamental freedoms guaranteed by Article 19 the right of shareholder and the company which the shareholders have formed are rather co-extensive and the denial to one of the fundamental freedoms would be denial to the others (Para 12).
Even if it were conceded that a company or a corporate body is a legal entity distinct from its shareholders and it is not in itself a citizen it is a fact that all superior courts have been admitting applications in exercise of their extraordinary jurisdiction from companies, societies and associations under Article 19 of the Constitution of which the RTI Act, 2005 is a child. Very few petitions have been rejected on the ground that the Applicants / Petitioners are corporate bodies or companies or associations and as such not “citizens”. This Commission also has been receiving sizeable number of such applications from such entities. If the courts could give relief to such entities the PIOs also should not throw them out on a mere technical ground that the Applicant / Appellant happened to be a legal person and not a citizen. In conclusion we direct that an application / appeal from an association or a partnership firm or a Hindu Undivided Family or from some other group of individuals constituted as a body or otherwise should be accepted and allowed.”
The observations and opinion in J.C. Talukdar’s case has been followed in several subsequent cases by the CIC, viz. Shri. R.K. Sharma vs. Ministry of Home Affairs, Delhi Police (Appeal No. CIC/WB/A/2007/00264), Shri. Hitesh Kumar vs. Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances & Pensions (Appeal No. CIC/WB/A/2007/00184) and the position that now emerges is clear that a company can apply for information under the provisions of the RTI Act. Such an application can be made through the company’s authorized representative / employee.