Report No. 275
c. Interpretation of the word 'includes':-
5.18 In clause (d) of section 2(h) of the RTI Act 2005 the term 'includes' has been used. From an interpretational perspective, it is a truism that when the definition clause in any statute uses the word "means", what follows is intended to be exhaustive. It becomes a "hard-and-fast" definition and no meaning other than that which is put in the definition can be assigned to the same.107
On the other hand, when the word "includes" is used in a definition, it appears that the Legislature did not intend to restrict the definition to the items already listed, rather it intended to make the definition enumerative, and not exhaustive. That is to say, a term defined with "include" will retain its ordinary meaning but its scope would be extended to bring within it matters, which in its ordinary meaning may or may not comprise.108
5.19 In the case of N.D.P. Namboodripad v. Union of India,109 the Apex Court, while interpreting the word 'includes', observed that it has different meanings in different contexts. The Court further said that it was indeed true that generally the word 'include' is used in a definition clause, it is used as a word of enlargement, that is to make the definition extensive, not restrictive.
The Court cited, Justice G.P. Singh's treatise on interpretation,110where it is stated that that where a word defined is declared to 'include' such and such, the definition is prima facie extensive, but the word "include" when used while defining a word or expression, may also be construed as equivalent to "mean and include" in which event, it will afford an exhaustive explanation of the meaning which for the purposes of the Act must invariably be attached to the word or expression.
5.20 In the case of Principal, M.D. Sanatan Dharam Girls College, Ambala City & Anr. v. State Information Commissioner, Haryana & Anr.,111 it was observed by the Punjab & Haryana High Court that the use of the word 'includes' in section 2(h)(d) of the RTI Act, indicated that the definition is illustrative and not exhaustive; and, that such "definition it to be taken as prima facie extensive" The Court added that the object of the RTI Act is to promote transparency and accountability in the working of every 'public authority' and it was vital for democracy that the citizenry is informed and there is transparency of information.
Referring to the long title/preamble of the Act, which inter alia emphasises on an "informed citizenry" as vital to the functioning of the democracy in India, the Court further observed that the long title itself highlights the need for a liberal interpretation of the provisions of the Act.
5.21 In the case of Tamil Nadu Road Development Company Ltd. v. Tamil Nadu Information Commission,112 (TNRDC case) the Court adopted a similar approach and noted that the term 'includes' entailed that certain words occurring in its proximity should be accorded a liberal interpretation. Additionally, in light of the objective behind enactment and implementation of the Act, it was concluded that a broad and purposive interpretation must be given.
The relevant extracts from the judgment are reproduced below: If we look at the definition of Section 2(h), which has been extracted herein above, it is clear that the appellant company does not come under the provisions of Section 2(h)(a)(b)(c) or (d), but thereafter Section 2(h)(d) of the definition clause uses the word 'includes'. It is well known that when the word 'includes' is used in an interpretation clause, it is used to enlarge the meaning of the words and phrases occurring in the body of the statute.
Therefore, obviously the definition of bodies referred to in Section 2(h)(d)(i) of the RTI Act would receive a liberal interpretation, and here the words which fall for interpretation are the words 'controlled or substantially financed directly or indirectly by funds provided by the appropriate Government'. The RTI Act is virtually enacted to give effect to citizen's right to know. Citizen's right to know has been construed by the Hon'ble Supreme Court as emanating from the citizen's right to freedom of speech and expression, which is a fundamental right.
So, a legislation, which has been enacted to give effect to right to know, which is one of the basic human rights in today's world, must receive a purposive and broad interpretation. The RTI Act has also provided a remedy for facilitating the exercise of the right to information and the reason for the remedy is also indicated in the Preamble to the Act. So going by the direction in Heydon's Case, followed by the Supreme Court in Bengal Immunity (supra) such an Act must receive a purposive interpretation to further the purpose of the Act.
So any interpretation which frustrates the purpose of RTI Act must be eschewed. Following the said well known canon of construction, this Court interprets the expression "public authority" under Section 2(h)(d)(i) liberally, so that the authorities like the appellant who are controlled and substantially financed, directly or indirectly, by the government, come within the purview of the RTI Act. In coming to the conclusion, this Court reminds itself of the Preamble to the RTI Act which necessitates a construction which will hopefully cleanse our democratic polity of the corrosive effect of corruption and infuse transparency in its activities.
5.22 Thus, it is evident from the above discussion that the word 'includes' in section 2(h)(d) of the RTI Act, has to be given an illustrative and enumerative meaning and has to be bestowed a liberal interpretation, in line with the Preamble to the Act.