Is Bangalore International Airport Ltd A 'Public Authority' Under RTI Act? Karnataka HC Asks State Information Commission To Decide Afresh
The Karnataka High Court has directed the State Information Commission to decide afresh whether the Bangalore International Airport Limited (BIAL) is a public authority within the meaning of Section 2(h) of the Right to Information Act.
A bench of Justices Alok Aradhe and S Vishwajith Shetty allowed the appeal preferred by BIAL against a single judge's order which upheld the Commission's decision declaring the company to be a 'public authority' and asking it to furnish certain information sought by the private Respondent under RTI Act.
The division bench noted that the impugned order of the State Information Commission was passed on August 18, 2008, prior to the Supreme Court's decision in Thalappalam Service Co-Op. Bank Ltd. & Ors. v. State Of Kerala & Ors., which laid down the criteria to determine whether an authority is a public authority under Section 2(h) of the Act.
"In our considered opinion, the question whether the BIAL is a public authority within the meaning of Section 2(h) of the Act is required to be adjudicated with reference to the decision of the Supreme Court in Thalappalam Service Co-Op. Bank Ltd. & Ors., (2013) 16 SCC 82. The aforesaid question requires adjudication of facts. Therefore, we are inclined to remit the matter to the Commission."
BIAL is a Company incorporated under Companies Act, 1956 with an objective to develop an international airport with private sector participation at Devanahalli, Bangalore. A shareholder's agreement dated 23.01.2002 has been entered into 4 between Karnataka State Industrial Investment and Development Corporation Ltd. (KSIIDC), Airport Authority of India (AAI), Siemens Project Ventures GmbH, Flughafen Zuerich AG. Larsen and Toubro Limited and BIAL. Under the said agreement, the management of affairs of the Company vests with the Board of Directors.
Respondent Benson Issac, had filed an application under Section 4(1)(b) of RTI Act seeking suo moto declaration by BIAL as to the contents provided under Section 41(1)(b) of the Act. The company responded by stating that it is not a public authority as defined under Section 2(h) of the Act.
Issac then moved the Karnataka Information Commission and obtained relief from a Full Bench. This order was challenged in a writ petition and came to be upheld by a Single Judge on February 9, 2010. Following which the intra-court appeal was filed.
The High Court observed,
"The Supreme Court has dealt with the expression 'substantially financed' used in Section 2(h) of the Act and has held that merely providing subsidies, grants, exemptions, privileges, etc. as such cannot be said to be providing fund to a substantial extent unless the record shows that funding was so substantial to the body which practically runs by such funding but for such funding it would struggle to exist."
It added "It has further been held that the burden to show that a body is owned, controlled or substantially financed by the funds provided by the appropriate Government is on the applicant who seeks the information. It has further been held that categories mentioned in Section 2(h) of the Act are exhaustive and therefore, there is no question of adopting a liberal construction to the expression 'public authority'."
Following which it held "The aforesaid question requires adjudication of facts. Therefore, we are inclined to remit the matter to the Commission. For the aforementioned reasons, order dated 09.02.2010 passed by the learned Single Judge as well as order dated 18.08.2008 passed by the Karnataka Information Commission are hereby set aside. The matter is remitted to the Commission. The Commission shall decide the matter afresh within a period of three months, after affording an opportunity of hearing to the parties."
Case Title: BANGALORE INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT LIMITED v. KARNATAKA INFORMATION COMMISSION & others
Case No: W.A. NO.900 OF 2010
Citation: 2022 LiveLaw (Kar) 500
Date of Order: 30TH DAY OF NOVEMBER 2022
Appearance: K.G. RAGHAVAN, SR. COUNSEL FOR MANU KULKARNI, ADVOCATE for appellant.
G.B. SHARATH GOWDA, ADV., FOR R1.
VIKRAM A. HUILGOL, SR. COUNSEL A/W AVANI CHOKSHI, ADV, FOR CLIFTON D'ROZARIO, ADV., FOR R2.
T.P. VIVEKANANDA, ADV, FOR R3.
NAMITHA MAHESH B.G. AGA FOR R4.