Can A Non-member Or A Family Member Of The Member Of A Cooperative Housing Society Seek Information Under The Rti Act, 2005
The Right to Information Act 2005 (hereinafter referred to as RTI Act, 2005) provides for citizens to access to information under the control of public authorities, as defined under section 2(h) of the RTI Act, 2005 and to ensure transparency in the working of every public authority.
Technically, Cooperative Societies do not come under the ambit of the RTI Act, until they are:
- A body owned, controlled, or substantially financed, directly or indirectly by funding of the appropriate government,
- A Non-governmental organization substantially financed directly or indirectly by funds provided by the appropriate government.
- Registered as a “Society” as per section 2 (27) under the Maharashtra Cooperative Societies Act, 1960.
However, even if a co-operative society is not a public authority, it cannot refuse to divulge information of any kind from the registrar of Cooperative societies barring the exceptions given under section 8 of the RTI Act, 2005.
The Supreme court in the case of Thalappalam Coop v/s State of India has opined that the President and Secretary of Co-operative Housing Societies are deemed Public Information Officers under the RTI.
A member of any cooperative society can exercise his rights under the RTI Act, 2005.
For a family member of a member to assume the same in a cooperative Housing society, such member must be registered as an ‘Associate Member’ in the society.
According to Section 24(2) of the Maharashtra Co-operative Societies Act 1960 – “Associate member” means a member who holds jointly a share of a society with others, but whose name does not stand first in the share certificate. But this application is not retrospective.
As per the directives issued under section 79A of the Maharashtra Cooperative Societies Act, 1960, a person who has contributed monetarily for purchasing the said flat, and whose name appears in the purchase agreement shall also be permitted to be an associate member. Such members are referred to as “joint members” as per the amendment of 2019.
Thus, to summarize, if a person is not the primary owner of a residence (i.e. is the spouse, mother, father, son, or daughter of the member of the housing society ), they still enjoy the right to access information granted to the other residents as long as they fill out the prescribed form and render the requisite fee of Rs 100(the mandate for such membership earlier, was to hold joint ownership of the residence of the housing society.)
An Associate Member has similar rights in a co-operative housing society as the Original Member, but with some exceptions ( with respect to voting, elections, etc) . Associate members also require the written consent of the Original Member is required with respect to certain actions.
The sacrosanct right to information for such members includes the freedom and right of:
- Getting a copy of the model bye-laws of the society from the secretary.
- Inspecting the books of the society including , registers, documents, the last audited annual balance sheet, the profit and loss account, a list of the members of the committee, a register of members, etc without being charged any money( as per Bye law no. 23(B) of the bye laws governing Cooperative housing societies in Mumbai, Maharashtra)
- Any information regarding the functioning of the housing society, or the irregularities of relevant authorities with regard to important documents.
It is however, pertinent to note that a legal heir does not automatically become a member unless his application for membership is accepted by the
society. However, in case of housing society, the application of the legal heir should ordinarily be
accepted since the principle of open membership as per section 24, of the Maharashtra Cooperative Societies act, 1960.
In case of noncompliance of the managing committee, the member or associate member has the right to approach the registrar.
Registrar of Cooperative Societies functioning under the Maharashtra Cooperative Societies Act, 1960 is a public authority within the meaning of Section 2(h) of the Act.
It has been conferred with the duty to comply with the obligations under the RTI Act and furnish information to a citizen under the RTI Act. Information which he is expected to provide is the information enumerated in Section 2(f) of the RTI Act,2005 but is subject to the limitations provided under Section 8 of the Act
The Aurangabad bench of Bombay High Court has ruled that
“Any cooperative society cannot deny information that is not exempted under section 8 of RTI Act to the member or registrar of co-operative society”.
In an event of evasion or refusal by the registrar, the individual can utilize the RTI act to elicit information about his cooperative society.
Therefore, the family member of the member of a cooperative housing society can also relinquish their right to information from its particular managing committee, provided they are associate or joint members of the said society,