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Political Parties Brought Under RTI Act : Full Bench CIC directs them to provide information under RTI.

4 June 2013 No Comment

Political Parties brought under RTI Act; 

RTI Activist News

Full Bench CIC directs them to provide information under RTI. 

New Delhi, 4th  June 2013

On 3rd of June 2013, a full bench of Central Information Commission (CIC) comprising of Chief Information Commissioner Shri. Satyananda Mishra and Information Commissioners Shri. M.L. Sharma and Smt. Annapurna Dixit gave a landmark judgment where they ruled in favor of bringing Political Parties under the ambit of Right to Information Act (RTI).

In October 2010, Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) filed RTIs with various National Political Parties seeking information regarding the contributions (donations) that were received by them. In response to these RTIs all National Political Parties, barring CPI, refused to divulge any information by putting forth the alibi that they didn’t come under RTI. Following this a complaint (CIC/SM/C/2011/000838) was filed with CIC in March 2011 requesting that Political Parties should be declared as public authorities so as to bring them under the purview of RTI. A similar complaint was also filed by Mr. Subhash Chandra Agrawal (CIC/SM/C/2011/001386). In both the complaints, the common issue relating to the disclosure of the accounts and funding of Political Parties was raised. Hence, it was decided by the CIC to dispose of these matters through a common order.

The historic judgment pronounced by the aforesaid bench of CIC primarily laid out arguments of three fundamental natures, those the bench found instrumental in arriving at the judgment.  These three critical and adequately reasoned out arguments are:

The Order and the supporting Arguments

 

The salient features of the operative part of the CIC order are as follows:

 

a)      Political Parties are Substantially Financed by the Central Government: INC, BJP, CPI (M), CPI, NCP and BSP have been substantially financed by the Central Government under section 2(h) (ii) of the RTI Act.

 

i.        Allotment of land in Delhi: Indirect Financing of Political Parties by Allotment of large tracts of land to them in prime areas of Delhi either, free of cost, or at concessional rates.

ii.      Allotment of land in State Capitals: Allotments of land to Political Parties in State Capitals as well

iii.    Accommodations/Bungalows at Concessional Rentals: Directorate of Estate has allotted Bungalows to Political Parties in Delhi at highly concessional rates; this is also a form of indirect financing of the Parties.

iv.     Total Tax Exemption: Central Government also provides to Political Parties total exemption from the payment of income tax against the incomes of the Parties (under section 13 A of the Income Tax Act)

v.       Free Airtime on Doordarshan & All India Radio: During Lok Sabha Elections and State Assembly Elections, Political Parties are allotted airtime slots on Doordarshan and All India Radio absolutely free of any charge

 

 

b)      Public Character: 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).

 

i.        The Political Parties are the life blood of our polity:  Elections are contested on party basis. Political Parties affect the lives of citizens, directly or indirectly, in every conceivable way and are continuously engaged in performing public duty.

 

ii.      Political Parties are the unique institution: Political Parties are essentially political institutions and are non-governmental. Their uniqueness lies in the fact that inspite of being non-governmental, they come to wield directly or indirectly influence on the exercise of governmental power. It would be odd to argue that transparency is good for all State organs but not so good for Political Parties, which, in reality, control all the vital organs of the State.

 

iii.    Preamble of RTI Act: The preamble of RTI Act aims to create an ‘informed citizenry and to contain corruption and to hold government and their instrumentalities accountable to the governed. Needless to say, Political Parties are important political institutions and can play a critical role in heralding transparency in public life. Political Parties continuously perform public functions which define parameters of governance and socio-economic development in the country.

 

c)      Constitutional/legal provisions

Political Parties have constitutional and legal rights-and-liabilities because of the following

 

i.      Registration of Political Parties: Political Parties are required to be registered with the ECI under section 29A of the R.P. Act, 1951 – a Central Legislation. An association or body gets the status of a political party on its registration. ECI awards symbols to Political Parties under the Election Symbols (Reservation and Allotment) Order, 1968, only after registration.

ii.      Filing of Election Expense and Contributions: The ECI calls for details of expenses made by the Political Parties in the elections. Contributions of the value of Rs. 20,000/- and above received from any person or a Company by a Political Party are required to be intimated to ECI under section 29C of the R.P. Act.

iii.      ECI superintendence: ECI is vested with the superintendence, direction and control of elections under Article 324 of the Constitution. ECI is also vested with the authority to suspend or withdraw recognition of a political party in certain contingencies.

iv.      Tenth Schedule of Constitution: Political Parties can recommend disqualification of Members of the House in certain contingencies under the Tenth Schedule

 

 

Performance of Public Duty

i.                    Setting up of CPIOs: The Presidents, General/Secretaries of these Political Parties are hereby directed to designate CPIOs and the Appellate Authorities at their headquarters in 06 weeks’ time. The CPIOs so appointed will respond to the RTI applications extracted in this order in 04 weeks’ time.

 

ii.                   Voluntary Disclosure: The Presidents/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 Way Ahead

 

Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) has already set the process, of bringing all the Political Parties under RTI, in motion by filing the RTIs against all the recognized Political Parties. By following the exactly similar process, the complaints against these Recognized Parties will be filed with the CIC to secure a similar judgement against them as well.

 

Why is it important for Political Parties to come under RTI?

 

It is being discussed in the public domain that if Political Parties are already filing Income Tax Returns to Income Tax Department and submitting Annual Contribution (Donation) Reports to ECI, then what other possibly crucial information is needed to be accessed from Political Parties.

 

a)      The information concerning the donors of the Political Parties, currently parties only disclose information for those sums of money that are over and above Rs. 20,000.

 

b)      The information pertaining to the suspension of existing members from primary membership or providing membership to new members, currently all this is withheld.

 

c)       The information regarding the Office Bearers inside the Political Parties and the details of  their elections as in who all contested for various posts, also about periodicity of elections

 

d)      The criteria of selecting candidates that are fielded by Political Parties in Parliamentary and Assembly elections.

 

e)      The information about the whole gamut of facilities that Government provides to Political Parties, we could only manage to discover a handful of these facilities

 

f)       Now after Political Parties are brought under the purview of RTI, they will be required 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.

g)      In totality, the onus of providing information about the matters related to Political Parties after the said CIC order sets into being lies only and only at the doorsteps of Political Parties  and citizens don’t need to run around accessing this information indirectly from other authorities.

 

Annexures:

 

        I.            ADR’s submission to CIC elaborating on the various heads of substantial financing of Political Parties by Government

II.            The Income Tax exemption provided to Political Parties- the staggering figures

III.            The current state of voluntary disclosure of information by various Political Parties on their websites

IV.            Total Income of the National Political Parties in the last 5 years (FY 2004-05 to 2010-11)

V.            Short note on Political Parties.

Comparison on the websites of National Political parties- v6

 


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