Plea to declare all political parties as public authorities and bring them under RTI act
GN Bureau | July 7, 2015
The supreme court on Tuesday issued notices to the government and election commission on a plea seeking to bring political parties under RTI (right to information act).
The petition filed the founding member of Association for Democratic Reforms, Prof Jagdeep S Chhokar, and RTI activist Subhash Chandra Agrawal had sought transparency and accountability in functioning of recognised national and regional political parties. Its plea is to declare all national and regional political parties as "public authorities" and bring them within the ambit of Right to Information (RTI) act.
"Issue the appropriate writ declaring all national and regional political parties to be public authorities under the RTI act...and thereby fulfill all obligations under provisions of the said act," the petition said.
It claimed that the political parties receive huge sums of money in the form of donations and contributions from corporates, trusts and individuals but do not disclose complete information about the source of such donations.
It urged the apex court to direct all national and regional parties to mandatorily disclose details about their income as well as expenditure.
It also sought declaration of entire details of donations and funding received by the political parties, irrespective of the amount donated and details of donors making donations to them and to electoral trusts.
The petition claimed that political parties enjoyed a stronghold over their elected MPs and MLAs under Schedule 10 of the Constitution that makes it compulsory for members of either Houses of Parliament or state legislatures to abide by the directions of their parties, failing which they stand to be disqualified.
The central information commission (CIC), in both 2013 and March 16, 2015, had declared all national and regional political parties to be public authorities under the Right to Information Act, 2005. However, Indian National Congress, Bharatiya Janata Party, Communist Party of India (Marxist), Communist Party of India, Nationalist Congress Party and Bahujan Samaj Party have not complied with the repeated orders by the nation's top RTI body to disclose assets.
“Under Section 29A of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 all political parties must affirm their allegiance to the Constitution of India and such allegiance is made compulsory for the purpose of registration under sub-section (7) of Section 29A. Therefore, political parties so registered must furnish information to the public under the right of information under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India, since right of information has been held to be a part of freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a),” the petition, represented by advocate Prashant Bhushan, said.
It said the Law Commission of India in its 170th report on ‘Reform of the Electoral Laws’ in May 1999 had also recommended for transparency in the functioning of political parties specially focusing on financial transparency and accountability in their functioning.
It further said the Law Commission of India in its 255th Report on Electoral Reforms in March 2015 has also proposed its recommendations on the issue of disclosure obligations of political parties.
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