The public charitable trust is a possible form of not-for-profit entity in India. Typically, public charitable trusts can be established for a number of purposes, including the relief of poverty, education, medical relief, provision of facilities for recreation, and any other object of general public utility. Indian public trusts are generally irrevocable. No national law governs public charitable trusts in India, although many states (particularly Maharashtra, Gujarat, Rajasthan, and Madhya Pradesh) have Public Trusts Acts.
Societies are membership organizations that may be registered for charitable purposes. Societies are usually managed by a governing council or a managing committee. Societies are governed by the Societies Registration Act 1860, which has been adapted by various states. Unlike trusts, societies may be dissolved.
According to section 20 of the Act, the types of societies that may be registered under the Act include, but are not limited to, the following: Charitable societies; Societies established for the promotion of science, literature, or the fine arts, For education; and Public art museums and galleries, and certain other types of museums.
Indian public charitable trusts are generally irrevocable. If a trust becomes inactive due to the negligence of its trustees, the Charity Commissioner may take steps to revive the trust. Furthermore, if it becomes too difficult to carry out the objects of a trust, the doctrine of cy pres, meaning "as near as possible," may be applied to change the objects of the trust. Thus, it appears donors could feel fairly secure in the event the trust can no longer accomplish its initial purposes; the trust's purposes would be changed to another similar public charitable purpose, or in the unlikely event of a distribution or winding up of a trust due to changed circumstances, the trust assets would be used for similar charitable purposes.
Unlike trusts, societies and section 25 companies may be dissolved. Upon dissolution and after settlement of all debts and liabilities, the funds and property of the society or company may not be distributed among the members. Instead, the remaining funds and property must be given or transferred to some other society or section 25 company, preferably one with similar objects.