Right to Information

Right to Information

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According to the Department-related Parliamentary Standing Committee report relating to The RTI (Amendment) Bill, 2013, Sixty Sixth report, Presented to the Rajya Sabha on 17th December, 2013, [please click here to download the report]:

•    The Parliamentary Standing Committee has supported the Central Government's proposal of amending the RTI Act to keep all political parties out of the ambit of the transparency law and nullify the June 2013 order of the Central Information Commission declaring all six national political parties as public authorities under that law. Only one MP- Ms. Anu Aga who is a nominated member of the Rajya Sabha has put in a dissenting note opposing the Bill. 

•    Keeping in view the importance of the Bill, the Committee issued a press communiqué in national and local newspapers and dailies, to solicit views/ suggestions from desirous individuals/ organisations on the provisions of the Bill. In response thereto, 39 memoranda containing suggestions were received, from various organizations/ individuals / experts, by the Committee. The Committee interacted with DoPT, members of political parties and various NGOs.

•    The Right to Information (Amendment) Bill, 2013 seeks to amend the Right to Information Act, 2005 in order to nullify order of full Bench of Central Information Commission (CIC) of 3rd June, 2013 (resting in File No. CIC/SM/C/2011/001386 and CIC/SM/C/2011/000838) bringing six national political parties (AICC/INC, BJP, CPI(M), CPI, NCP and BSP) under the ambit of RTI Act by making liberal interpretation of the term 'public authority' mentioned under Section 2(h) of the RTI Act.

•    The Statement of Objects and Reasons appended to the Bill mentions that the political parties are not public authorities since they are neither established nor constituted by or under the Constitution or any other law made by Parliament. They are rather registered/ recognized under the Representation of People Act, 1951 and Rules/Orders made or issued thereunder. Provisions of the Representation of People Act, 1951 as well as the Income Tax Act, 1961 deal with transparency in the financial aspects relating to the parties and their candidates.

•    Declaring political parties as public authority under the RTI Act would hamper their smooth internal functioning; party rivals may misuse the provisions of the RTI Act adversely affecting the functioning of political parties. Moreover, the objective of the said Act is not to include political parties under its ambit.

•    Since the decision of CIC is binding upon the parties in view of Section 19(7) of the RTI Act, the Statement of Objects and Reasons has also mentioned that aforesaid amendment to keep political parties out of ambit of the RTI Act will have retrospective effect from the date of decision of CIC, i.e., 3rd June, 2013.

•    The Committee noted the justification to the proposed amendment given in the Cabinet Note No. 1/13/2013-IR dated the 23rd July, 2013 to annul erroneous decision arrived at by CIC by liberal interpretation of the term 'public authority' in relation to RTI Act:-

*    Registration of political parties under Section 29 A of the RP Act, 1951 with Election Commission of India cannot be construed as akin to establishment or constitution of body or institution by an appropriate Government.

*    Misuse of the Act by political rivals with malicious intention which may adversely affect smooth functioning of political parties which is neither the object of the Act nor was envisaged by Parliament under the Act.

•    Secretary, DOPT, which is nodal Ministry for the RTI Act justified the amendment to the Act on the ground that possible political misuse of the Act by political rivals which would destabilize the political party which is not the objective of the Act. Existing provisions in the RP Act, 1951 and the Income Tax Act, 1961 ensure transparency in the financial aspects of political parties. He added that all information including financial information which is not exempted under Section 8 of the Act needed to be shared if the order of CIC is not nullified.

•    All six national political parties except CPI which were respondent to the CIC order of 3rd June, 2013 were categorical in their assertion that political parties are not public authority in relation to RTI Act. The Committee sought views of all recognized national and state parties on the proposed legislation. Till date INC, NCP, CPI, CPI(M) and Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK) have submitted their views which are in support of proposed amendment. However, the BJD through its Member in the Committee, has categorically asserted that his party firmly opposes the proposed amendment and fully supports the spirit and tenor of the CIC order.

•    Civil Society Organizations are of the view that information relating to financial matter of political parties need to be shared with public as bulk financing to political parties is under Rs.20,000 which is not reported to Election Commission of India and Income Tax Authorities and is therefore unaccounted for. Some of the political parties have reportedly been in receipt of contributions from foreign sources in contravention of Section 29B of the RP Act, 1951 and corresponding provision in the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, 2010.

•    The Committee also noted that following provisions in other existing laws ensure adequate transparency in respect of financial matters of political parties and their candidates which have been stressed as grounds for not bringing political parties under RTI Act:

*    Declaration of contribution received in excess of Rs.20,000/- from any individual and non-governmental companies to Election Commission which that Commission put on its website (Section 29C of the RP Act, 1951, read with Rule 85B of the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961).

*    Declaration of assets and liabilities by elected candidates for a House of Parliament (Section 75A of the RP Act, 1951)

*    Maintenance of correct account of election expenditure of the candidate (Section 77 of the RP Act, 1951)

*    Lodging of account of election expenses by the candidate with District Election Officer (Section 78 of the RP Act, 1951)

*    Disqualification of the candidate for failing to lodge election expenses by Election Commission (Section 10A of the RP Act, 1951)

*    Penalty for filing false affidavit (Section 125A of the RP Act, 1951)

*    Direction from Election Commission of India to political parties to submit their accounts within 90 days after general election in case of Lok Sabha and 75 days in case of Assembly elections (last issued on 21st January, 2013)

*    Inspection of accounts of candidate of political party and obtaining the same from ECI on payment of nominal charges (Section 88 of the RP Act, 1951)

*    Declaration of assets and liabilities to the Ethics Committee of House by the Members of Parliament

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