The government has opposed in Supreme Court a plea to bring political parties under the ambit of RTI Act, saying this would adversely impact their internal working and political functioning. Submitting an affidavit, the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) has said the Central Information Commission (CIC) erroneously ruled in June 2013 that political parties are public authorities under the RTI Act and, hence, are accountable under the transparency law.
“If political parties are held to be public authorities under RTI Act, it would hamper their smooth internal working, which is not the objective of the RTI Act and was not envisaged by Parliament. Further, it is apprehended that political rivals might file RTI applications with malicious intentions, adversely affecting their political functioning,” the affidavit stated.
The DoPT claimed that the CIC had made a “very liberal” interpretation of RTI Act, “leading to an erroneous conclusion” that political parties are public authorities.
In its judgment, the CIC had said political parties should be held accountable under the RTI Act since their constitution was akin to setting up a body by the government and they also performed public functions after availing various financial aid and concessions by the Centre. But this judgment remained on paper and the parties did not comply with the mandate of RTI Act.
Complaining non-compliance, applicants Subhash Chandra Aggarwal and Anil Bairwal of the Association of Democratic Reforms (ADR) approached the CIC which, in March, directed the DoPT to take action. ADR and Aggarwal moved a PIL in Supreme Court, seeking a declaration that political parties are public authorities and should disclose details of income and expenditure for public scrutiny.
A bench led by Chief Justice H L Dattu issued notice in July and the DoPT filed an affidavit last Friday, stating RTI Act never envisaged to bring political parties under its ambit. It said the CIC was wrong in its judgment since political parties cannot be termed as public authorities because they are formed neither under the Constitution nor under any law of Parliament. Performance of public duty is also not a condition mentioned under the law for defining a body as a public authority, it stated.
About checks on financial transactions of parties, the DoPT said there were provisions under the Representation of the People Act and the Income Tax Act, fastening a liability on them to make sufficient disclosure regarding income and expenditure.
Adequate provisions for explanations and penalties, it claimed, were also stipulated under these Acts and that Election Commission places all requisite information on its website. These provisions ensure adequate transparency in financial aspects of a political party, the DoPT said.
With a view to “annul the adverse effects of the erroneous conclusion by the CIC,” the government said, a Bill was introduced in 2013 to amend the RTI Act so as to specifically exclude political parties from the definition of public authority but it lapsed with the dissolution of the Lok Sabha in 2014.
Retrograde step, says AAP
The Aam Aadmi Party on Monday opposed the Centre’s move to keep political parties out of the ambit of RTI Act. The party called it a “retrograde step that will lower the credibility of the political parties”.