RTI Act is not applicable to Deemed Universities: Karnataka High Court

The High Court of Karnataka setting aside the Judgement of Central Information Commission has held that Manipal University (MU), which is as Institution Deemed to be University does not come under the purview of the Right To Information (RTI) Act, 2005.

Pursuant to an Application by an advocate, regarding the number of students admitted to Pharma Courses, the University had responded saying that it was not covered within the scope of RTI Act, 2005 and hence is not bound to disclose the information. The Applicant being aggrieved, took the matter to Central Information Commission and the Commission was pleased to pass following order:

“It appears from Section 3 that deemed Universities are declared to be so by notification in the official Gazette by the Central Government. Of this is the case, then a deemed University may come with in the definition of “Public Authority”. As mentioned earlier, “Public Authority” does include any authority or body established or constituted by notification issued by the appropriate Government.”……………… “”University” means a University established or incorporated by or under a Central Act, a Provincial Act or a State Act, and includes any such institution as may, in consultation with the University concerned, be recognized by the Commission in accordance with the regulations made in this behalf under this Act. Manipal University by virtue of being a Deemed University is a Public authority as defined under the RTI act.”

 Being aggrieved, Manipal University had challenged the Order before the Karnataka High Court seeking declaration that Right to Information Act, 2005 is not applicable to the petitioner-university.

It was argued that University is a private educational institution, which is neither owned, controlled nor substantially financed by the Government. The nature of the control of the Government over the petitioner – University is only regulatory and not otherwise.

It was also contended that a Deemed to be University comes into existence by an Executive Charter and not by way of legislation as is usually done in case of Universities. It was argued that Central Information Commission did not consider the fine line of distinction between the University recognized under the UGC Act and the University established by the Central or a State Act.

The High Court while ruling in favour of the University accepted the argument that the Petitioner University and held that:

“ Given the above facts and circumstances and the legal arguments canvassed by the learned Senior Advocate, it would have to be accepted that the petitioner is a ‘Deemed to be University’ and recognized as such under the UGC Act and it is not established under the Act unlike a University, which is generally established under a statute either under a Central Government Act or State Government Act and therefore it could not be confused with any other University which may be so established. It is neither controlled or financed by the State Government and it is certainly a private institution with its own management and control and therefore, the same cannot be brought under the purview of the definition of a ‘public authority’ as contained under the RTI Act. Hence, it would not be tenable for the respondents to proceed as if the petitioner came under the definition of ‘public authority’ in having issued directions in the impugned order.”

Accordingly, it allowed the Writ Petition and quashed the impugned order.

EduLegaL View:

Though, I agree in principle with the Judgement, but I wish the High Court would also dealt with another important aspect in the definition of “Public Authority”, which deals with Notifications.

Section 2[h] of the Act, which defines “Public Authority” reads as under: “Public Authority” means any authority or body or institution of self- government established or constituted: a. By or under the Constitution, b. By any other law made by Parliament; c. By any other law made by State Legislature; d. By notification issued or order made by the appropriate Government, and includes any: (i) Body owned, controlled or substantially financed; (ii) Non-Government Organisation substantially financed directly or indirectly by funds provided by the appropriate Government.”

Section 3 of the University Grants Commission Act, 1956, which provides for the constitution of Deemed Universities, reads as follows:-

“The Central Government may, on the advice of the Commission, declare by notification in the Official Gazette, that any institution for higher education, other than a University, shall be deemed to be a University for the purpose of this Act, and on such a declaration being made, all the provisions of this Act shall apply to such institution as if it were a University within the meaning of clause (f) of Section 2.”

It is clear that “a notification” establishes a Deemed University, which is a common element in Section 3 of the UGC Act, 1956 and Section 2[h] of RTI Act, 2005. Some discussion on this issue by the High Court would have settled the issue.

Any ways, till then the Argument may continue!

Ravi Bhardwaj | mail@edulegal.in

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