New Delhi: In a significant ruling, the Delhi High Court on Thursday said that under the Right to Information Act, every citizen is entitled to know the donations given by the President of India.
"Every citizen is entitled to know as to how the money, which is collected by the State from him by exaction has been utilised. Merely because the person making the donations happens to be the President of India, is no ground to withhold the said information," Justice Vipin Sanghi said.
The court upheld the CIC`s order directing the President`s secretariat to make public the names of recipients of the donation, besides their address and the sum of donation given by the First Citizen.
While dismissing the Centre`s plea against the Central Information Commission`s (CIC) May 4 order to provide the informations to Nitish Kumar Tripathi, the court said, "The honourable President of India is not immune from the application of the Act (RTI). What is important is, that it is a public fund which is being donated by the President, and not his /her private fund placed at his /her disposal for being donated amongst the needy and deserving persons."
Earlier, allowing Tripathi`s plea, the CIC had asked the Rashtrapati Bhawan to give details of the donations made by the President to Tipathi within 15 days and upload the information on the official website of the President`s secretariat.
The court also rejected the government`s argument that some people seek donations for medical treatment and the right of privacy of third parties would be breached by such disclosures.
"The donations made by the President of India cannot said to relate to personal information of the President. It cannot be said that the disclosure of the information would cause unwarranted invasion of the privacy of, either the President of India, or the recipient of the donation," the court said.
"A person who approaches the President, seeking a donation, can have no qualms in the disclosure of his/her name, address, the amount received by him/her as donation or even the circumstance which compelled him or her to approach the First Citizen of the country to seek a donation," it added.
Justice Sanghi further said "such acts of generosity and magnanimity done by the President should be placed in the public domain as they would enhance the stature of the office of the President of India. In that sense, the disclosure of the information would be in the public interest as well."
The court rejected Additional Solicitor General AS Chandhiok`s argument that CIC had ignored its earlier order in 2009 exempting the Prime Minister`s National Relief Fund from the ambit of RTI Act.
"Since this Court is not concerned with the disclosures vis-a-vis the Prime Ministers Relief Fund, the said issue is not being dealt with herein. In any event, unlike in the case of the Prime Minister’s Relief Fund, in the present case, the donations have been made by the honourable President of India from the tax payers money," the court said while dismissing the government`s argument that CIC had confused donations with subsidy.
The court also said public funds are those funds which are collected by the state from the citizens by way of taxes, duties, cess, services charges and they are held by the state for utilisation for the benefit of the general public.