Politicians should not be under RTI ambit: Parliamentary panel
New Delhi: A parliamentary standing committee has said political parties should not be brought under the Right to Information (RTI) Act since they are not public authorities created by Parliament, scotching moves to bring political party funding under greater public scrutiny.
The parliamentary committee on personnel, public grievance, law and justice gave its views in a report published six months after the Central Information Commission (CIC) passed an order asking that political parties be brought under the RTI Act.
The committee said that declaring political parties public authorities under the RTI Act would hamper their smooth internal functioning. And there was a possibility that rival political parties may misuse the RTI Act, which would again affect their functioning, it added.
“The Right to Information (Amendment) Bill, 2013 seeks to amend the Right to Information Act, 2005 in order to nullify order of full Bench of Central Information Commission bringing six national political parties, INC (Indian National Congress), BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party), CPI-M (Communist Party of India Marxist), CPI (Communist Party of India), NCP (National Congress Party) and BSP (Bahujan Samaj Party) under the ambit of RTI Act by making liberal interpretation of the term public authority mentioned under the RTI Act,” said the report.
Backing up its stand, the report said the Attorney General of India had told the committee that political parties were foundations of democracy that needed to be protected from malicious and motivated application of the RTI.
The CIC had passed an order in June saying political parties are public authorities who should be answerable to citizens under the RTI Act. The order was interpreted as an attempt to bring political parties, especially the six national parties, under greater public scrutiny.
Political parties, under the orders of the CIC, would have to disclose their sources of funding as well as details of expenditure.
The CIC, a quasi-judicial body with the powers of a civil court, based its ruling on parties receiving substantial indirect funding from the Union government and having the character of public authorities under the RTI Act as they performed public functions.
But the standing committee report argued that political parties are registered and recognized under the Representation of People Act, 1951 and covered by provisions of the Representation of People Act, 1951 as well as the Income Tax Act of 1961, which deal with transparency in the financial aspects of political parties and its members.
“Political parties are not public authorities since they are neither established nor constituted by or under the Constitution or any other law made by Parliament,” the report said. All six national political parties, except the Communist Party of India (CPI), which were respondents to the CIC order, asserted that political parties are not public authorities with regard to the RTI Act.
Political experts following the development point out that since public money is spent on political parties, they should be come under the RTI Act.
“Political parties represent lawmakers. Even though they are not made under a law, they constitute lawmakers who are integral to the process of making law. So, they should come under the RTI Act. Since public money is spent on political parties, citizens have the right to get a view on the functioning of these political parties,” said Jai Mrug, a Mumbai-based political analyst.
Among the political parties that did not support the view of the committee and instead submitted a dissenting note were the CPI and Biju Janata Dal, who believe political parties are public authorities that should be brought under the RTI Act.