Political parties come within ambit of RTI Act: CIC

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 In a landmark judgment, the Central Information Commission (CIC) has ruled that political parties come within the ambit of the Right to Information Act. The judgment has far reaching implications on the functioning of political parties.

The CIC order said: “We have no hesitation in concluding that INC/AICC, BJP, CPI(M), CPI, NCP and 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 full bench of the commission, comprising Chief Information Commissioner Satyananda Mishra and Information Commissioners M.L. Sharma and Annapurna Dixit, argued: “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 criticality of the role being played by these political parties in our democratic set-up and the nature of duties performed by them also point towards their public character, bringing them in the ambit of Section 2(h). The constitutional and legal provisions discussed herein above also point towards their character as public authorities,’’ the commission held.

The order came after activists Subhash Chandra Aggarwal and Anil Bairwal of the Association of Democratic Reforms approached the CIC, requesting that political parties be declared as public authorities.

They had asked the six political parties to make available details of voluntary financial contributions received by them and the donors’ names and addresses.

The political parties, with the exception of the CPI, however, refused to give away information, claiming that they do not come under the RTI Act.

The commission then directed the presidents and general secretaries of the six political parties to designate CPIOs and the Appellate Authorities at their headquarters in six weeks’ time. “The CPIOs so appointed will respond to the RTI applications extracted in this order in four weeks’ time.”

The CIC also directed the political parties to comply with the provisions of mandatory proactive disclosure by putting those details on their websites.

While rejecting the arguments made by counsel of the political parties of their being out of the ambit of the RTI, the CIC referred to a Supreme Court judgment, which said that “the little man of this country would have the basic elementary right to know full particulars of a candidate who is to represent him in Parliament where laws to bind his liberty and property may be enacted.”

“The people of India must know the source of expenditure incurred by political parties and by the candidates in the process of election,” the CIC concluded.

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