New Delhi: Political parties have come out opposing the Central Information Commission order bringing political parties under jurisdiction of the Right to Information Act. The Janata Dal United and the Communist Party of India - Marxist have slammed the decision saying the CIC exceeded its brief.
"The CIC has acted outside its jurisdiction. The government should step in. CIC doesn't understand the politics of this country," JD(U) chief Sharad Yadav said.
The Congress has also opposed the order. "Congress party is opposed to the decision taken by CIC. Political parties are not government bodies," party leader Janardhan Dwivedi said.
The CIC had said that since government subsidises buildings and facilities for political parties, they qualify to be termed public offices, which are subject to RTI. The ruling provides for greater transparency in the working of the political parties as now the public has the right to get information about their functioning and funding.
A Full Bench of the Commission comprising Chief Information Commissioner Satyananda Mishra and Information Commissioner ML Sharma and Annapurna Dixit held six parties - the Congress, the BJP, the CPI-M, the CPI, the NCP and the BSP - to whom RTI queries were directed, fulfill the criteria of being public authorities under the Right to Information Act. "The Presidents, General Secretaries of these parties are hereby directed to designate CPIOs and Appellate Authorities at their headquarters in six weeks. The CPIOs so appointed will respond to the RTI applications extracted in this order in four weeks time," the bench directed.
The bench also directed them to comply with the provisions of mandatory proactive disclosures clauses given under the RTI Act and put those details on their websites. The case relates to RTI queries from activist Subhash Agrawal and Anil Bairwal of Association of Democratic Reforms who had sought to know the finances of, voluntary financial contributions received by these six parties and the names and addresses of the donors besides other details which were refused as the political parties claimed they do not come under the RTI Act.
During the hearing, Bairwal raised three principal points justifying his arguments that parties were under the RTI Act - indirect substantial financing by the central government, performance of public duty and Constitutional and legal provisions vesting them with rights and liabilities. "Large tracts of land in prime areas of Delhi have been placed at the disposal of the political parties in question at exceptionally low rates. Besides, huge government accommodations have been placed at the disposal of political parties at hugely cheap rates thereby bestowing financial benefits on them," it said.
The bench held the income tax exemptions granted to the parties and free air time given by All India Radio and Doordarshan at the time of elections also substantially contribute to indirect financing from the government. "We have no hesitation in concluding that INC/AICC, the BJP, the CPI-M, the CPI, the NCP and the BSP have been substantially financed by the central government and therefore they are held to be public authorities under Section 2(h) of the RTI Act," the Bench ordered.
On the performing of public duty point raised by Bairwal, the CIC held that political parties "affect the lives of the citizens, directly or indirectly in every conceivable way and are continuously engaged in performing public duty. It is, therefore, important that they become accountable to public".
"Political parties are the unique institution of the modern constitutional State. These are essentially political institution and are non-governmental. The uniqueness lies in the fact that inspite of being non-governmental, they come to weild or directly and indirectly influence 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," the bench held.
Citing a Supreme Court order where it held that people of India must know the source of expenditure incurred by political parties during elections, the CIC said these judicial pronouncements unmistakably command progressively higher level of transparency in the functioning of political parties in general and their funding altogether. "In view of the nature of public functions performed by political parties...we conclude that political parties in question are public authorities under section 2(h) of the RTI Act," the bench held.
(With additional information from PTI)