New Delhi: Accountability campaigners took a firm stand against the reported bid by the government to tweak rules to ensure that political parties stay outside the purview of the Right To Information (RTI) Act, in effect moving the goalposts to negate the effects of a recent ruling by the Central Information Commission (CIC).
The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government is said to be getting ready to issue an ordinance to this end, according to PTI , and a government official said it could do this by changing the definition of “public authority” under the RTI Act or clarifying “substantial funding” as 50% or more to keep political parties out of the transparency law. The official did not want to be identified.
CIC said in a 3 June ruling that six national political parties, including the Congress and the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, should be considered public authorities and be accountable under the RTI Act. The ruling was based on the ground that political parties are substantially funded indirectly by the Union government.
The Congress, the Left parties and the Janata Dal (United) have criticized and rejected the CIC order, saying that it would harm their internal democracy and may be used as a tool by rivals.
The government is unlikely to challenge the judgment in court and is instead considering an ordinance, PTI reported on Tuesday, citing people in the law ministry.
While it may consider the legislative route, it is likely to opt for an ordinance as the six-week deadline to comply with the CIC order ends on 15 July.
The Act does not quantify “substantial funding”.
One rationale for the 3 June ruling of CIC was that political parties that receive government funding, directly or indirectly, be treated akin to non-governmental organizations (NGOs).
The official cited above added that another way to provide immunity to political parties would be to exempt NGOs altogether from the RTI Act.
RTI activists have voiced reservations on the issue and a section of them have written to President Pranab Mukherjee against an ordinance.
“Political parties feel it is a strong case and are therefore opting for an ordinance route. There is no immediate need for it and so an ordinance like this which curtails the fundamental right of freedom of expression should not be brought,” said Shailesh Gandhi, RTI activist and former information commissioner at CIC. “Changing laws is not something that should be done lightly. If transparency improves every organization, how can it hurt only political parties?”
The Congress party declined to comment on whether an ordinance was in the works. “We would not like to comment on it right now,” said party spokesperson Meem Afzal.