Punjab & Haryana High Court orders all registered RWAs to comply with RTI norms

The order makes it mandatory for all RWAs, to appoint a Public Information Officer (PIO), responsible for communication coordination and a first appellate authority designated to hear appeals.

By S Sreedhar 

In a significant precedent-setting judgment that could have far reaching implications for RWAs, the Punjab and Haryana High Court has ruled that all societies registered under the Haryana Regulation and Registration of Societies Act (HRRS), 2012, have to become fully compliant with the provisions of the Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2005, by July 2.

An order to this effect was passed by the court and sent to the principal secretary, the chief secretary, and the registrar general of societies, Haryana.

The order, passed by the High Court last month, makes it mandatory for all Residents’ Welfare Associations (RWAs), in the state to appoint a Public Information Officer (PIO), responsible for communication coordination and a first appellate authority designated to hear appeals.

Various societies and RWAs registered under the HRRS Act, though obliged to provide information in response to RTI requests, have not been proactive about the same, allege RTI activists. “This is because there is no formal system in place for sharing information, such as appointing PIOs or appellate authorities,” said city-based RTI activist Aseem Takyar. The advantage of the ruling is that RWAs will have to become more transparent about their finances, and can no longer hide any information about their books, he explained.

Another city-based RTI activist, Harinder Dhingra, said, “RWAs are known to ignore RTI requests, going so far as to claim they are not covered within the ambit of the law.” However, as per Section 83 of the HRRS Act, all documents filed by a society or RWA with the district registrar are deemed to be public documents and can be accessed by any citizen under the provisions of the RTI Act. Therefore, denying information sought through the RTI requests is unlawful on part of the RWAs.

“The Commission is of the considered view that Societies formed under the Haryana Registration and Regulation of Society Act, 2012 cannot escape from the responsibility of implementing the provisions of RTI Act, 2005,” the State Information Commission (SIC), wrote in an order on January 22. This was in relation to a particular case of RTI compliance by an RWA in Panchkula. This instruction was subsequently challenged by a Gurugram RWA, on grounds that the SIC cannot issue sweeping instructions to all societies which were not party to that particular case. However, the SIC’s reasoning found consonance with the high court earlier this month, with the court observing, “The State Information Commission, Haryana, has given effect to the statutory provisions and has exercised its powers well within its jurisdiction.” The high court also stated, “This Court does not find any ground to interfere in the orders passed by the State Information Commission, Haryana, rather mandates the State of Haryana to implement the order in letter and spirit at the earliest.”

RS Rathee, president of the Qutub Enclave RWA, said, “We agree with the court’s judgement. Our RWA already has a PIO and appellate authority. It is in public interest for RWAs to be transparent about their workings.” Several other RWA presidents were not aware of the matter or declined to comment.

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