CIAL is public authority, falls under ambit of RTI: Kerala HC

PTI, Dec 8, 2022, 4:25 PM IST

The Kerala High Court has held that the Cochin International Airport Ltd (CIAL) is a public authority which comes under the ambit of the Right to Information (RTI) Act.

The ruling by Justice Amit Rawal came on a batch of pleas moved by CIAL challenging the Kerala State Information Commission’s 2019 order holding that the company was a public authority and directing it to disclose the information sought by some RTI applicants regarding minutes of its Board meetings.

The high court said that minutes of the Board meetings, after approval, are sent to the registrar of companies and therefore, it was a public document and cannot be exempted as personal information under the RTI Act.

CIAL, in its plea, had claimed that it was not a public authority and the information sought under RTI was personal information which was exempt from disclosure under the transparency law.

Rejecting its contention, the high court ruled, ”The order of the State Information Commission dated June 20, 2019 in a batch of petitions assailed by the petitioner (CIAL) is perfectly justified and legal. Accordingly, upheld. Writ petitions (of CIAL) are dismissed.” The court further said, ”It is held that the CIAL is a public authority.” It also remanded back to the State Public Information Officer (SPIO) of the CIAL an application, by one of the company’s shareholders, seeking share transfer details of another shareholder and directed that the information be provided in accordance with the law.

During the hearing of the matter, CIAL had contended that it was not a public authority as the Kerala government has no control over its decisions which are taken by the Board of Directors.

It had also contended that nomination or appointment of Directors, including the Managing Director of the company was subject to the Board’s decision and even power of the government to nominate 1/3rd of the Directors was subject to the final decision of the Board and the company does not require the approval of the government.

CIAL had also claimed that empanelment of the Kerala Chief Minister, Pinarayi Vijayan, as its Chairman and the authorisation he has to nominate Directors, including the MD, would not mean the government has substantially financed the company and has control over its management and affairs.

The RTI applicants, on the other hand, had contended that CIAL’s website reveals it received a Rs 100 million bridge loan from the Federal Bank with the Kerala government standing as a guarantor.

Besides that even the Housing and Urban Development Corporation of India (HUDCO), also on the guarantee of the Kerala government, provided a term loan of Rs one billion, they had told the court and claimed that, therefore, CIAL was a public authority.

After hearing both sets of arguments, the high court in its order of December 2 said that while a mere shareholding of the state government would not lead to a conclusion that it has a deep and pervasive control over the company, but the facts along with the Articles of Association and the ”candid admission” of CIAL on its website leaves no doubt that the Kerala government has control over it.

”…therefore, the petitioner company CIAL would definitely fall within the definition of public authority as provided under the RTI Act,” the court said.

It further noted that other than the CM as chairman, out of three of the Directors, two are ministers and the Manager is of the rank of Chief Secretary or Additional Secretary.

”The Managing Director of the company is an IAS officer and the salary is being drawn from the state exchequer. The order of the State Information Commission is perfectly legal and justified and does not call for any interference under Article 226 of the Constitution of India,” the high court said.

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