BIAL a ‘public authority’, rules KIC

Because of the government's equity stake and a range of tax, cess and other exemptions granted to BIAL, the Karnataka Information Commission has taken the view that BIAL must respond to RTI applications.

On 14 May, the Karnataka Information Commission (KIC) ruled that the Bangalore International Airport Limited (BIAL) can be construed as “Public Authority” and therefore it would be within the purview of the RTI Act. This issue arose out of an RTI application regarding suo motu disclosure by BIAL sought Benson Isaac, a citizen.

While refusing to entertain Isaac’s RTI application, BIAL took the stand that it was not a public authority as defined under the Act and as such was not under any obligation to make disclosures under RTI. Isaac then appealed at the KIC.

The KIC used Section 2(h) of the RTI to examine the appeal. Under this section, a public authority includes non-government organisations substantially financed, directly or indirectly by funds provided by the appropriate government. The crucial point examined was whether or not the company in question is “substantially financed” directly or indirectly through government.

The KIC ruling
(PDF, 30 KB)

The KIC took into account section 14 of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) Act 1971 which addresses the question of "substantially financed" for the purposes of public audit of the accounts of a body or authority.

It noted that apart from equity by the private promoters and government promoters, financing for BIAL includes Rs.350 crores interest-free debt from the Government of Karnataka under a State Support Agreement, exemption from entry taxes, exemption of property taxes for 5 years, lease of land on confessional rent, wavier of stamp duties and registration charges, exemption from fees for change of land use and exemption from payment of road cess.

The KIC noted that even excluding indirect support such as tax and cess exemptions, total government funding of BIAL is Rs.434 crores, which is higher than the total share of the private promoters — Siemens, Unique Zuirch and Larsen & Toubro. If the indirect support is also taken into account, the government support would be much higher, noted the KIC.

Observing this and more, the KIC came to the conclusion that "the BIAL is a body substantially financed by the Government is therefore a Public Authority as defined under section 2(h) of the Act."

The implication of this landmark judgment is that citizen will now be able to access information through RTI in respect of many Public Private Partnership (PPP) infrastructure projects which often are vital concern to the people at large.

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