Sunday, November 14, 2010

Ludhiana’s elitist Lakshmi Ladies Club is under RTI Act

The party seems to be over for Ludhiana's elitist Lakshmi Ladies Club, which counts wives of bureaucrats and big industrialists among its members. The Punjab State Information Commission on Thursday ruled that the club was covered under the RTI Act, as it was substantially financed by the state and stood on prime government land. Inspection of revenue records revealed that the club illegally occupied more than 19 bighas.

The ruling was given by State Information Commissioner Lt Gen PK Grover (retd) while deciding the case of Amrik Singh of BRS Nagar, Ludhiana, who had filed a complaint against the PIO of Lakshmi Ladies Club for denying information under the RTI Act about establishment, organisational structure and accounts.

The Club took the plea that it was "purely a private body" and not a public authority under the RTI Act. The club representative also said it was a self-financed institution, funded through application fee and subscription charges collected from members. "It is neither owned nor controlled by the state, and is not financed by the government," the respondent added.

However, the SIC stated in his order that the club was registered under the Societies Registration Act, 1860, and amended by the Punjab Amendment Act, 1957, and under the RTI Act a public authority has been defined as a body established by a law made by Parliament or the state legislature or financed by the government.

Complainant Amrik Singh had submitted that the club was substantially financed by the state as the prime land on which it has been constructed was owned by the government.

Accordingly, the commission got the ownership of the land verified through the Ludhiana Deputy Commissioner's office, and inspection of revenue records proved the complainant's contention correct. It was revealed that the club was in "unauthorised possession of land measuring 19 bighas and 8 biswas".

The commission said this leaves no doubt that there was indirect and substantial financial assistance by the state government. "Funding may be direct or indirect. It may consist of contribution to revenue expenditure or providing infrastructural facilities. In fact, the cost of prime land in 'unauthorised possession' by the club would be much more than its normal revenue expenditure. This militates strongly against the respondent being a purely private body," Lt Gen Grover said while directing the club to provide information to the complainant by November 20.

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