New Delhi: A day after the Central Information Commission (CIC) said India’s political parties are public authorities and answerable under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, people are divided on whether the commission’s decision is legally tenable or not.
To be sure, it will be a brave political party that challenges the decision because such a move would immediately be seen as that party having something to hide.
Section 18 of the RTI Act says that CIC and its state counterparts “have the same powers as are vested in a civil court while trying a suit under the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908”, including those in the cases of issuing summons, receiving cases on affidavit and requisitioning any public record or copies thereof from any court or office.
While CIC has the powers to penalize, its decisions can be challenged in the high court or the Supreme Court.
The CIC decision on Monday was with respect to six national parties mentioned in the petition—the ruling Congress party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), the Communist Party of India (Marxist) or CPM, the Communist Party of India and the Bahujan Samaj Party.
The RTI Act of 2005 states that any body, authority or an institution of self government can be declared a public authority if it is established through the Constitution, laws made by Parliament or state legislatures or by notification by an “appropriate government”. CIC interpreted the term appropriate government as the Election Commission whose registration is needed for a political party to be recognized as such.
One of the petitioners said the decision would hold up in court.
“There is zero chance that it is not legally tenable. There are high court and Supreme Court orders quoted in the case. One does not necessarily have to be a government body to be under the RTI Act,” said Jagdeep Chhokar, RTI expert and founding member of New Delhi-based Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR).
CIC cited a 2010 Delhi high court order which said that the New Delhi-based Sanskriti School—which is not a government body—is a public authority and comes under the ambit of RTI. The argument by the court then was that the school had received government funding.
“Section 19 of the RTI Act says that the decision of the CIC is binding. In effect there can be no appeal against it; it can only be challenged through a writ petition,” a CIC official said while requesting anonymity.
“If the matter at all goes to the court, then it is for the courts to decide. It is a little early to pre-empt what the court would say,” the official added.