Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Right to Information (Amendment) Bill:

The Central Information Commissioner's (CIC) office had passed an order saying political parties should come under the Act as they were public authorities. A Bill seeking to amend the Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2005, to shield political parties from providing information under the transparency law is pending in the Parliament. The Union Cabinet had last month cleared a proposal to amend the RTI Act and negate a CIC order to this effect. The CIC had, in its order on June 3, held that the six national parties- the  Congress, Bharatiya Janata Party, the NCP, CPI-M, CPI and Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party - have been substantially funded indirectly by the central government and were required to appoint public information officers as they have the character of a public authority under the RTI Act.

In Section 2 of the RTI Act
, which defines public authority, to shield the political parties? In clause (h), the following Explanation shall be inserted, namely:–– ‘Explanation.––The expression “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 political party under the Representation of the People Act, (RPA) 1951.The government argued that political parties are not government or Constitutional bodies and do not take government funds hence should be kept out. Most major political parties are in agreement with the amendment except few.

It has also been observed that there are already provisions in the RPA as well as in the Income-tax Act, 1961 which deals with the transparency in the financial aspects of political parties and their candidates.

Declaring a political party as public authority under the RTI Act would hamper its smooth internal working, which is not the objective of the said Act and was not envisaged by Parliament under the RTI Act. Further, the political rivals may misuse the provisions of RTI Act, thereby adversely affecting the functioning of the political parties. But the analysis indicates that the amendment suggested in the Bill has the potential to violate the fundamental right of right to equality and equal treatment to all persons guaranteed by the Constitution under Article 14. It seeks to treat political parties as a separate category from other substantially-financed non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

The Bill has been referred to Parliament's standing committee for further discussion.  The said amendment once notified will have retrospective effect from the date of the said decision of CIC, that is, 3rd day of June, 2013.

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