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Political parties to come under RTI?

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Political parties to come under RTI?
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The Supreme Court on Tuesday issued notices to six national political parties apart from the Centre and the Election Commission asking them to respond to a plea that seeks to bring the political outfits under the ambit of Right to Information (RTI) Act making them more accountable to the public.

A three member panel headed by Chief Justice of India H L Dattu sent notices to the BJP, Congress, NCP, CPI, CPM and BSP asking them to clarify within six weeks why they couldn’t be declared as “public authorities” which would allow citizens to access details of their finances and internal processes. The Bench was considering a plea filed by NGO, Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) and RTI activist Subhash Agrawal seeking court directions to make the political parties abide by the RTI Act in order to maintain transparency over their financial details. Notices were also issued to the Center and the Election Commission to make their stand clear on bringing the parties under the Act. The NGO claimed that the parties received bulky amounts as donations and contributions from corporate, trusts and individuals but do not disclose the details about the sources. ADR hence urged the apex court to direct all the national as well as regional political parties to mandatorily reveal their financial details irrespective of the amount donated. The Central Information Commission (CIC) has ruled in 2013 as well as in 2015 that the six national parties were public authorities under the RTI Act and so they were supposed to comply with the provisions of the Act. But the parties have resisted the orders by the CIC saying that they don’t come under the specified law. The Commission couldn’t act against the parties as it did not have the power to issue the contempt-of-court action.

The RTI Act passed by the parliament in 2005 after decade-long campaign by activists, is seen as a tool to curb corruption and nepotism rampant in the country’s government offices. The political parties have been reluctant to be subjected to the Act which demands their complete financial transparency including income, expenditure and details of donations received. This attitude of the parties is anti-democratic. The Supreme Court last week refused a plea to disclose the public money spent on medical expenses of the retired SC judges under the RTI Act saying that it was an ‘intrusion into their privacy’. In countries like US, Japan, France, Italy, Nepal and Bhutan, there are RTI policies to know about the donations received by the various political parties and their sources. But in India, which is known the world’s largest democracy, questions as to why this isn’t possible wouldn’t be satisfactorily or logically answered by the political leaders.

Advocate Prashant Bhushan who appeared for the NGO argued that the since the political parties were public authorities, they were amenable to the RTI Act. He contended that they were funded by the government which makes them liable to come under the Act. He also referred to a recent report by the Law Commission stating that the political outfits were obliged to disclose their income and expenditure. It’s the fundamental right of the citizens to know about the financial status of the political parties. When a political party is registered, it should submit all the details required under the sub-section (4) of Section 29A of the Representation of the People Act thereby declaring its loyalty to the Constitution. These parties are also liable to provide the freedom of speech and expression under the section 19 (1) A. They have control and power over the Executive and the Legislature and the MPs and the MLAs are bound to obey the party. So the argument that the political parties could only be seen as public authorities becomes relevant.

It’s necessary to ensure that the political parties, which have a crucial role in the democracy we envisage, maintain its democratic aspects as well as transparency in its activities. So the attempts to resist or evade the law are contemptible. The citizens have the right to know about the financial and internal processes of the political parties under the RTI Act. They should also welcome any move that would bring to light the party activities stained with corruption and illegal accumulation of wealth.

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