RTI amendment Bill referred to standing committee for “elaborate study”

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ACTNew Delhi, September 5; The UPA government on Thursday referred an amendment Bill on the Right to Information Act (RTI) that seeks to keep political parties out of purview from the ambit of RTI Act, to the parliamentary standing committee “for elaborate study.”

Announcing this in Lok Sabha, Minister of State for Personnel and PMO V. Narayanasamy said “The government has decided to refer the RTI (Amendment) Bill, 2013, to the standing committee of the parliament because the order passed by the Central Information Commission (CIC) bringing political parties within the purview of ‘public authority’ under the RTI Act needs elaborate study.”

The Minister added that if the Bill went to the standing committee it would receive inputs from various political parties and its members. The House accepted the government’s decision.

The Bill, introduced in Lok Sabha on August 13, 2013, seeks to insert an explanation in Section 2 of the RTI Act regarding public authority. It states: “Authority or body or institution of self-government established or constituted by any law made by Parliament shall not include any association or body of individuals registered or recognised as a political party under the Representation of the People Act, 1951.”

The Bill also has a new Section 31 in the principal Act which says that the amendment will apply “notwithstanding anything contained in any judgment, decree or order of any court or commission..,” and will prevail over “any other law for the time being in force.”

There is a strong opposition for the amendment Bill from some political parties, civil society, RTI activists and the NGOs as they claimed that the new legislation would defeat the very purpose of bringing the RTI Act that is in force since 2005.

The government rushed to bring the amendment Bill as the CIC, in its order on June 3, 2013, declared six political parties as “pubic authorities” under the RTI Act. The judgment read: “We have no hesitation in concluding that the INC/AICC, the BJP, the CPI(M), the CPI, the NCP and the BSP have been substantially financed by the Central government and therefore, are held to be public authorities under Section 2(h) of the RTI Act.” The order meant that parties, like the government, would now be held to account, and would be especially under compulsion to reveal their sources of funding.

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