Centre defends exemption of political parties from RTI

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15New Delhi, August 2;The central government on Friday sought to justify its decision to amend the Right to Information Act, specifically to keep political parties out of its purview on the ground that they were not public authorities and were instead mere voluntary associations of individuals.

Briefing reporters on the deliberations of the meeting of Union Cabinet, which on Thursday evening took the decision to amend the RTI Act, Law Minister, Kapil Sibal, argued that the stance of the Chief Information Commissioner that political parties were public authorities as they were substantially funded by the Government and thus would come under the ambit of RTI Act, was wrong.

Noting that political parties were nothing but voluntary associations of people, with the individuals free to join or leave them at will, he said that if the interpretation of the CIC was right, then farmers, industries and others who also get substantial support from the Government in the form of subsidies, tax exemptions and benefits should also be covered under RTI. “We are elected. We are not appointed like officials’’, he added.

Mr. Sibal pointed out that there were already several measures in place to ensure transparency in the functioning of political parties such as the provisions under Representation of People Act for declaring donations to the parties, election expenditures made by the parties and their candidates, and also the assets and liabilities of the candidates.

“There are sufficient provisions to deal with each and every aspect of financing, its declaration and punishment for filing false affidavit and all such information are made available to the public through the Election Commission’s website’’.

Replying to a query, he affirmed that there was scope for more transparency, but stressed that it cannot be through the RTI Act. “Election Commission takes initiatives from time to time to make the political system more transparent and accountable and we all participate in those consultations’’.

Asked as to why the Government was coming up with a Bill to amend the RTI Act instead of challenging the CIC’s order in Court, he said it was because there was an urgency to resolve the matter at the earliest.

“The CIC’s order is already operative. We can’t wait for the Court to take a decision. It will take a long time. We have to settle the issue soon,’’ he added.

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