Govt fears misuse of RTI and seeks to keep out political parties

SC is considering public interest litigation that has sought declaration equating political parties with public authorities

GN Bureau | August 25, 2015


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Terming information commission’s ruling as ‘a very liberal interpretation’ and ‘erroneous conclusion that political parties are public authorities under the RTI Act’, the Union government has told the supreme court that bringing political parties under the scope of the Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2005, would affect the smooth functioning of these parties.

An affidavit filed last week, the centre said both the Representation of the People Act, 1951, and the Income Tax Act, 1961, have adequate measures to ensure that transparency is maintained in the accounts of political parties. The apex court is considering a public interest litigation filed by non-profit Association for Democratic Rights (ADR) that has sought a declaration equating political parties with public authorities.

In response to the court’s notice, the government said bringing a political party under the ambit of public authority as defined by the RTI Act will “hamper its smooth functioning”. It may also expose a political party to a large number of malicious RTI applications by rival political parties.

In August last year, too, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government had made its stand clear on the issue when minister of state for personnel and training Jitendra Singh said in a written reply to the Rajya Sabha that bringing a political party under the RTI Act could “hamper its smooth internal working, which is not the objective of the RTI Act”.

The affidavit said under Section 29C of the RPA all political parties shall prepare a report each financial year for receiving any contributions in excess of Rs 20,000, from individuals and organizations other than government companies.

Under Section 75A of the RPA provides for declaration of assets and liabilities by each elected candidate for a House of Parliament.

Further under Section 13A of the IT Act, a political party can claim exemption from tax provided that such political party keeps and maintains such books of accounts and other documents as would enable the assessing officer to properly deduce its income there from.

According to the Centre, the CIC had made “a very liberal interpretation of Section 2(h) of the RTI Act, leading to an erroneous conclusion that political parties are public authorities under the RTI Act.

“Political parties are not established or constituted by or under the Constitution or by any other law made by Parliament. The political parties are constituted by their registration under the RPA and this cannot be construed as akin to establishment or constitution of a body or institution by an appropriate government, as held by the Central Information Commission,” the Centre added.

Lawyer Prashant Bhushan, representing ADR had claimed that political parties receive huge sums of money in form of donations and contributions from corporates, trusts and individuals, but do not disclose complete information about the source of such donations. ADR’s petition relied on two orders of the Central Information Commission that ruled that political parties should be considered public authorities. The orders were not implemented.

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