New Delhi: Donations made by the President of India out of public funds do not pertain to his or her personal information, the Delhi High Court Thursday said, and ordered details on disbursement of presidential funds between 2004-11 to be made public.
The court dismissed a petition by the president’s secretariat challenging the Central Information Commission (CIC) order directing it to disclose donations made by the president.”The donations made by the President of India cannot be said to relate to personal information of the president. It cannot be said that the disclosure of the information would cause unwarranted invasion of the privacy of either the President of India or the recipient of the donation,” Justice Vipin Sanghi said.
The court made it clear that the president also came under the Right to Information (RTI) Act. “The President of India is not immune from the application of the act.” The court ruled that the donations made by the president were out of public money.
“Every citizen is entitled to know as to how the money, which is collected by the state from him by exaction has been utilised. Merely because the person making the donations happens to be the President of India, is no ground to withhold the said information,” the court said.The court order came on the plea filed by the president’s secretariat challenging the May 4 order of the CIC on an RTI application filed by Nitesh Kumar Tripathy.
Tripathy’s plea filed in June 2011 sought information relating to the donations given by the president from “time to time”.The CIC in its order observed that “the donations given by the president of India out of the public funds cannot be treated differently from the subsidy given by the government to citizens under various welfare schemes”.
Additional Solicitor General (ASG) A.S. Chandhiok, appearing for the president’s secretariat contended before the court that the information sought under the RTI Act on the financial assistance given under the president’s discretionary grant would infringe upon the privacy of the party receiving the funds.Justice Sanghi said in the judgment that he did not find any merit in the ASG’s submission.
“A person who approaches the president, seeking a donation, can have no qualms in the disclosure of his/her name, address, the amount received by him/her as donation or even the circumstance which compelled him or her to approach the first citizen of the country to seek a donation,” said the court.
“Such acts of generosity and magnanimity done by the president should be placed in the public domain as they would enhance the stature of the office of the president of India. In that sense, the disclosure of the information would be in the public interest as well,” the court said.Justice Sanghi said: “Public funds are those funds which are collected by the state from citizens by imposition of taxes, duties, cess and services charges. These funds are held by the state in trust for being utilised for the benefit of the general public.”