NGOs Substantial Financing Case: Supreme Court’s Judgment on Public Authority Definition

Delve into the recent Supreme Court judgment on defining public authorities under the Right to Information Act. In a case concerning NGOs substantially financed by the government, the apex court’s decision will have far-reaching implications on transparency and accountability. Learn more about this significant ruling shaping the governance landscape.


  • Any authority, body, or institution established or constituted by a notification of the Central or State Government is considered a public authority under Section 2(h) of the Act.
  • Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) substantially financed by the appropriate government fall within the ambit of ‘public authority’ as per Section 2(h) of the Act.
  • The Right to Information Act of 2005 was enacted to provide citizens with access to information and promote transparency in governance.
  • The Act aims to ensure accountability of Governments and their instrumentalities, contain corruption, and maintain transparency in the functioning of democracy.
  • The definition of ‘public authority’ in Section 2(h) includes bodies owned, controlled, or substantially financed by the government, whether directly or indirectly.
  • NGOs claiming exemption from the Act are challenged based on the interpretation of Section 2(h) and the true intention of the Act to serve its purpose.
  • The Section 2(h) of the Act deals with six different categories, with two additional categories mentioned in sub-clauses (i) and (ii).
  • NGOs substantially financed by the appropriate Government are considered public authorities under the Act.
  • The definition of ‘public authority’ includes bodies owned, controlled, or substantially financed by the government.
  • Determining substantial finance for NGOs is a question of fact, to be decided case by case.
  • The Act aims at bringing transparency in public dealings and probity in public life.
  • The inclusive clause of the definition aims to cover bodies beyond those mentioned in clauses (a) to (d).
  • The term ‘substantially’ is interpreted to mean a large portion and can be both direct and indirect financing.
  • Notification under clause (d) is related to the establishment or constitution of the body and not the Act itself.
  • NGOs receiving significant grants from the Government could be considered substantially financed.
  • Emphasis is placed on whether a body can effectively carry on activities without government funding to determine substantial finance.
  • The judgment in Abhiram Singh v. C.D. Commachen (Dead) by L.Rs. and Ors held a pragmatic view is required for interpreting the law so that the benefit reaches the masses.
  • The word ‘means’ in a definition is restrictive, while ‘includes’ is extensive.
  • The language of the Act must be followed if clear, without giving own interpretation.
  • The word ‘substantially’ is defined as ‘essentially; without material qualification; in the main; in substance; materially.’
  • The Societies do not fall within the categories listed under Section 2(h) of the Act.
  • Reference is made to the judgment in the Thalappalam case regarding ‘substantially financed’.
  • The interpretation of a statute must ensure the object of the Act is fulfilled.
  • The word ‘substantial’ does not mean ‘dominant’ or ‘majority’.
  • The definition clause must be given emphasis when it contains ‘means and includes’.
  • The legislative body is presumed to seek to achieve reasonable goals in a reasonable manner.
  • Purposive construction must be applied to fulfil the object of the Act.
  • When ‘means and includes’ are used, the categories exhaust themselves, indicating an exhaustive definition.
  • Literal interpretation may not fully reflect the intended benefit of the people in welfare state legislations.
  • The aspect of substantial financing was not fully considered in the High Court judgments.
  • The bodies in question are deemed NGOs, but their level of substantial financing needs to be determined by the High Court.
  • The issue of substantial financing must be further deliberated and decided upon.

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  • High Court to treat writ petitions filed in 2013 with priority.
  • Both parties given opportunity to file documents and present their case.
  • All appeals disposed of according to the observations made.
  • Civil Appeal No. 9828 of 2013 dismissed.
  • Civil Appeal Nos. 9844-9845 of 2013, 9846-9857 of 2013, and 9860 of 2013 remitted to High Court for determination of substantial financing.

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Case Number: C.A. No.-009828-009828 / 2013

Click here to read/download original judgement

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