The Constitution Club of India on the posh Rafi Marg here has been declared public authority under the RTI Act by the Central Information Commission making it answerable to people's queries under the transparency law.
A division bench of the Commission comprising Information Commissioners Sudhir Bhargava and Sridhar Acharyulu declared the club as public authority, saying it was "directly funded" by the government.
The Commission rejected the arguments of the club that it is "completely self-funded".
"The Constitution club spends public money for public representatives. The Constitution, common sense, provisions of RTI Act, Parliamentary control through Speaker, Deputy Speaker and Secretary demand that it should be public authority and its information be accessible under RTI law," it said.
The club had contended there is no control of any nature or to any degree exercised by any Government over it or its management of activities.
"Merely because certain ceremonial positions in the governing council of the club have been reserved for certain state dignitaries, it does not make the club a government-controlled body," the club had claimed.
It had said that it does not received any fund, grant or financial support whatsoever from any government or state or public entity or from any source other than membership subscriptions or charges.
The club said the land and building in which it is housed has not been allotted by any government to the club and it is a licensee of the government in the said building and is paying licence fee to it.
"The contention that they never claimed any concessions from the government fails totally. The CCI is enjoying enormous concessions and manages valuable immovable properties, besides getting a new building and possession of suites etc.
"This substantial funding, if withdrawn, the CCI cannot function even for a minute," the Commission held in the order while declaring the club a public authority.
The Commission said the club has claimed that they are paying Rs 100 rent per month, which was not reflected in their annual statements and observed that either the club is not paying rent or there could be no rent at all as neither the club nor the government offices produced any lease deed.
"It seems there is neither lease nor the deed. There is no evidence to show any licence related documents. The CCI is surviving on the lands and properties of the Union government. It is absolutely dependent upon the state property. It has no source of income of its own. The CCI makes income only with the land and buildings in the heart of national capital," the Bench said.
The bench said the discussion before it and records placed
before the Commission reveal that the Union government is transferring huge properties and creating big facilities at the cost of exchequer to CCI, which is enough to declare it as public authority under RTI Act.
The order comes on the plea of Subhash Agrawal who had sought to know details regarding functioning of the club.
He had sought to know if Lok Sabha is ex-officio President of Constitution Club, questions related to setting up of the club, purpose, why was it changed to an association etc.
The club refused to respond to RTI query saying it does not come under the transparency law.
Declaring it as public authority under the RTI Act, the CIC Bench said, "People should have a right to ask about the functioning of CCI and spending on it to create facilities for their elected representatives and others."
"It is clear that the state is pumping hundreds of crores of rupees, giving highly valuable state lands and buildings, asking CPWD to construct new building worth Rs 140 crore, with direct control of properties through MoUD or Lok Sabha Secretariat and facilitating them to make huge income every year. Thus, there is direct and substantial funding by government to the CCI," it said.
The Commission said the Speaker, Lok Sabha is the Ex-officio President of the club, the Deputy Speaker, Lok Sabha is the ex-officio General Secretary and the Union Minister for Urban Development and the deputy chairperson, Rajya Sabha are the ex-officio Vice President of the club.
"Though said positions are claimed to be honorary and ceremonial, they are, in fact, substantially controlling as proved by the transactions and transfers," it said.
It said since the CCI cannot be termed as an NGO, therefore, only testing parameter left is where it is a body owned, controlled and substantially financed.
"Thus the owner of land and buildings is undoubtedly the 'state'. Ownership in case of CCI is not clear because as per the respondent, the CCI is a lessee of the MoUD (leasor). However, no lease deed was produced before the Commission, despite a specific direction by the Commission in this regard," it said.
The Commission said it is an accepted fact that all the renovations are undertaken by the Ministry of Urban Development (MoUD).
"Further, as is clear from the Income-Expenditure Statement of the CCI, rent receipts amounting to approximates Rs two crore which the CCI is earning, is from the property owned by MoUD," it said.
The bench said the income of the CCI matches, the expenditure as reflected in the income-expenditure statement of the CCI reveal that if the rent receipts are removed from the income of the CCI, there would be a deficit of Rs two crore, which is substantial enough to hamper the functioning of the CCI and it might cease to exists.
"This means, such funding by the government i.E. Inclusive of rent receipts and the renovation amount is so substantial in nature and it cannot be ignored for considering the public character of the CCI," it said.
The Commission said it is clear that there is an indirect funding of the appropriate government to the CCI and therefore, the CCI is held to be a Public Authority in terms of Section 2(h)(d)(i) of the RTI Act.