Political parties come under RTI Act, says Central Information Commission

Terms political parties public authorities as they are substantially funded by Central government

By Kundan Pandey
Published: Monday 03 June 2013

In a landmark order, the Central Information Commission (CIC) on Monday said that all political parties come under the ambit of the Right To Information (RTI) Act, and directed all parties to designate public information officers and appellate authorities at their headquarters in six weeks time.

Political parties have for long been resisting public scrutiny, while activists have been demanding that there should be complete transparency in their financial and internal functioning. Various commissions, including the Law Commission and the Election Commission have already recommended that political parties should adopt measures to usher in transparency.

The full bench of CIC, comprising chief information commissioner Satyananda Mishra, information commissioner ML Sharma and Annapurna Dixit, in their order said that the Indian National Congress (INC), Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), left parties CPI(M) and CPI, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) are public authorities and, therefore, the RTI Act would extend to them also.
“We hold that INC, BJP, CPI(M), CPIO, NCP and BSP have been substantially financed by the Central Government under section 2(h)(ii) of the RTI Act. The criticality of the role being played by these political parties in our democratic set up and the nature of duties performed by them also point towards their public character, bringing them in the ambit of section 2(h). The constitutional and legal provisions discussed herein above also point towards their character as public authorities,” the order read. The order was given on a complaint filed by Association of Democratic Reforms (ADR) and Subhash Chandra Aggarwal.
While pronouncing the order, the full bench also set aside the order of the single bench of CIC, rejecting the plea of the complainants.

The bench gave the parties six weeks to designate chief public information officers (CPIOs) and appellate authorities at their headquarters. “The CPIOs will respond to the RTI applications extracted in this order in four weeks’ time. Besides, the residents/General Secretaries of the above mentioned Political Parties are also directed to comply with the provisions of section 4(1) (b) of the RTI Act by way of making voluntary disclosures on the subjects mentioned in the said clause,” the order said.

ADR had filed RTI applications, seeking information regarding contributions received by the various political parties in October 2010; all political parties except CPI refused to disclose information, saying they did not come under RTI Act. Subsequently, a complaint was filed with CIC in March 2011, requesting that political parties should be declared public authorities. The hearing in the case took place on September 26, 2012 and November 1, 2012.

Talking to Down To Earth, national coordinator of National Election Watch and ADR, Anil Bairwal, said that all political parties claim they have nothing to hide but are reluctant to part with information. “They will have to come up to the expectations of common people,” he said.

The other complainant in the case, Aggarwal, said that the decision will have far-reaching effect. “It will bring transparency in political activities,” he said while adding that by logic RTI would now also extend to the controversy-ridden Board of Cricket Control of India.
Nikhil Dey, who along with activist Aruna Roy founded Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan, said political parties hide information regarding funding and that many activities remain undocumented. He said the RTI Act can be used to put pressure on parties to document all funding and other activities that are not documented.

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