8 Nov 2009

LIC linked insurance cos covered under RTI

In a recent decision, the full bench of Central Information Commission (CIC) has declared that (i) LIC Housing Finance Limited, (ii) LIC Mutual Fund Asset Management Co. Limited and (iii) GIC Housing Finance Limited are covered under the Right to Information Act and thus required to provide information to the public under the enactment. All the three companies had contested on various legal fours to argue that they were not public authorities but independent private entities not substantially financed and controlled by the Government and thus beyond the purview of the RTI Act. However dealing with each of the companies in particular and for independent reasons for each of them the CIC concluded that they all were public authorities and thus obliged to take all necessary steps to carry out their duties and responsibilities assigned by the Act.

In respect of LIC Housing Finance Limited, the CIC examined the shareholding pattern of the companies to conclude that 
"it can be inferred that the control of LIC over LICHFL is explicit and effective. The very fact that Chairman of the LIC is also the Chairman of LICHFL further strengthened this inference. The appellant has also submitted that if the shareholding of other Banks is added to the total shareholding of the PSU, the total shareholding will exceed 80%. It is an admitted fact that the total shareholding of the PSU is 45% and this is sufficient enough to bring it within the definition of the term “substantial finance”. We may agree that the LICHFL is not owned by LIC of India as the total shareholding of the LIC does not exceed 50% but there can be no doubt that LIC and other insurance companies and banks taken together have financed LICHFL substantially." The CIC relied upon a decision of Madras High Court to observe that "it is not necessary that the Government should be the majority shareholder of the Public Authority. The body or institution should be substantially financed by the Government and they should be controlled by the Government. Whether or not the government exercises such control or not is immaterial."
In respect of LIC Mutual Fund Assets Management Co. Limited, the CIC dismissed its contention observing thus; 
"The LIC of India is a body established, constituted, owned and controlled by Central Government which is the Appropriate Government for the LIC of India and the funding by LIC of India and their general control over the functioning of the LIC Mutual Fund can be nothing but an indirect funding and control by the Appropriate Government. LIC of India is a public authority having been constituted by an Act of Parliament. LIC of India in turn in order to further carry out their public function have formed LIC Mutual Fund approved for formation “through subsidiary” which has to function under LIC’s control. The respondent Mutual Fund is fully financed and administratively controlled by the LIC of India through a Board of Trustees. The trustees of the Board who manage the LIC Mutual Fund are appointed with the approval of LIC of India. LIC of India has the power to change the Trustees from time to time. The corpus of the Trust amounting to Rs.10 lakhs was contributed by the LIC. The Trust Deed provides that a further sum not exceeding Rs.25 crores shall be made available as initial contribution to the Trust by the LIC. The LIC has floated the Mutual Fund to mop up the additional savings from the public in rural and semi-urban areas and it would be receiving considerable amount of insurance business from the Mutual Fund. LIC of India for the above purpose provides to the Mutual Fund all suitable help and guidance which includes payment of initial corpus of the Trust, financial assistance to the Trust, renting out premises after housing the Mutual Fund, provision of initial office equipment and deputation of suitable employees etc. The Chairman of LIC is authorized to take such administrative decisions as may be required periodically so as to ensure the smooth launching of the LIC Mutual Fund and its successful operation."
Finding the position of G.I.C. Housing Finance Limited no different, the CIC concluded that "shareholding of six Public Authorities in GIC Housing Finance is 47.68% and coupled with the control they exercise over the GIC Housing Finance is sufficient to bring them within the ambit of the definition of “Public Authority” as defined in Section 2(h) of the Right to Information Act, 2005."

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