RSTV: THE BIG PICTURE- POLITICAL PARTIES UNDER RTI
The PIL was filed in the Supreme court arguing that political parties registered with Election Commission to be brought under RTI Act. The public interest litigation filed by Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay, a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader, wants political parties registered under section 29A of Representation of People Act, 1951 to be declared as ‘public authority’ under the Right to Information Act, 2005, (RTI). It was also pled that all registered and recognized political parties should be directed to appoint public information officer and appellate authority within 4 weeks and make disclosures in letter and spirit of the RTI Act. In the event of non-compliance of provisions of RPA, RTI Act, Income Tax Act, Moral Code of Conduct and other election laws and rules, political parties shall be derecognized by the ECI.
Right to Information Act 2005 mandates timely response to citizen requests for government information. It replaces the erstwhile Freedom of information Act, 2002.
- The Act applies to all States and Union Territories of India except Jammu & Kashmir.
- Under the provisions of the Act, any citizen may request information from a “public authority” (a body of Government or “instrumentality of State”) which is required to reply expeditiously or within thirty days.
- The Act also requires every public authority to computerise their records for wide dissemination and to proactively certain categories of information so that the citizens need minimum recourse to request for information formally.
- The Act covers the whole of India except Jammu and Kashmir, where J&K Right to Information Act is in force.
- Private bodies are not within the Act’s ambit directly. In a decision of Sarbajit Roy versus Delhi Electricity Regulatory Commission, the Central Information Commission affirmed that privatised public utility companies continue to be within the RTI Act.
- The Central Information Commission (CIC) has also held that the political parties are public authorities and are answerable to citizens under the RTI Act.
- Central Intelligence and Security agencies specified in the Second Schedule like IB, Directorate General of Income tax (Investigation), RAW, Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), Directorate of Revenue Intelligence etc. are excluded from providing the information.
- Agencies specified by the State Governments through a Notification will also be excluded.
- The exclusion, however, is not absolute and these organizations have an obligation to provide information pertaining to allegations of corruption and human rights violations. Further, information relating to allegations of human rights violation could be given but only with the approval of the Central or State Information Commission.
The Central Information Commission (CIC) is set up under the Right to Information Act and is the authorised body, established in 2005, under the Government of India.
- The Chief Information Commissioner heads the Central Information Commission, the body that hears appeals from information-seekers who have not been satisfied by the public authority, and also addresses major issues concerning the RTI Act.
The Chief Information Commissioner and Information Commissioners are appointed by the President on the recommendation of a committee consisting of—
- The Prime Minister, who shall be the Chairperson of the committee;
- The Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha; and
- A Union Cabinet Minister to be nominated by the Prime Minister.
Who is Public Authority?
As defined in Section 2 (h) “public authority” means any authority or body or institution of self Government established or constituted –
- a) By or under the constitution
- b) By any other law made by Parliament
- c) By any other law made by State Legislature
- d) By notification issued or order made by the appropriate Government, and includes any-
(i) body owned, controlled or substantially financed
(ii) non-Government organisation substantially financed, directly or indirectly by funds provided by the appropriate Government”
Arguments against bringing Political Parties under RTI:
- Political parties were not established by the constitution or an act of parliament and therefore should not be under the RTI.
- They are formed under Representation of People Act, which is not the same as being created by the parliament.
- Political parties are not public authorities as they are not set up under the Constitution or any law enacted by Parliament – they can’t be treated as an institution or establishment.
- If political parties come under the RTI it will affect their smooth internal functioning.
- Political rivals will start using RTI tool with malicious intent.
- There are already provisions in the Income Tax Act, 1961, and Representation of the People Act, 1951, which demand necessary transparency regarding financial aspects of political parties. These mechanisms ensure transparency in financial dealings of parties.
- Information about a political body is already in the public domain on the website of the Election Commission.
Arguments in favour of bringing Political Parties under RTI:
- Strategy regarding their functioning and all need not be disclosed to the public but financial matters should be available to the public because they are public institutions, they get money from public
- If political parties are kept out, it sets a precedent whereby other institutions can argue that they too be kept out of its purview because there are too many frivolous claims, too much paperwork, too many NGOs with suspect motivations and so on and so forth.
- Political parties in our country occupy a very central space in democracy. People don’t vote so much for individuals as they do for parties.
- Parties come out with great statements before elections. People vote on the basis of which party says what. Parties finally form the government. And the government’s policies are decided based on the ideologies of the political parties.
- In India, it is widely accepted notion that fountain head of the corruption is political funding.
- Almost all political parties have got very valuable plots allotted by the Government at prime places in New Delhi and in their respective capital cities.
- It is therefore, necessary to introduce internal democracy, financial transparency and accountability in the working of the political parties.
- to ensure less influence of industrial houses on policy making: Most of the parties have almost 75% of their income from unknown sources. Generally corporate and industrial houses give them funds to change policies, give illegal clearance and to hamper their competitor’s interest. It may also hamper people and national interest.
- Political parties enjoy a “stronghold” over their elected MPs and MLAs under Schedule 10 of the Constitution. The Schedule makes it compulsory for MPs and MLAs to abide by the directions of their parent parties.
- It would be within the average voter’s fundamental right to information to know the financial details of political parties.
- Under Section 29A of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 all political parties must affirm their allegiance to the Constitution of India and such allegiance is made compulsory for the purpose of registration under sub-section (7) of Section 29A. Therefore, political parties so registered must furnish information to the public under the right of information under Article 19(1) (a) of the Constitution of India, since right of information has been held to be a part of freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a).
- The Law Commission of India in its 170th Report on ‘Reform of the Electoral Laws’ in May 1999 had recommended transparency in the functioning of political parties.
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