Shailesh Gandhi | August 17, 2013
In a matter before the central information commission (CIC), six political parties were declared as public authorities and were thus expected to appoint information officers by July 15 to reply to RTI queries. Neither did they obey the order nor have they challenged it in a court. They flouted statutory orders.
Is this an example the parties should be setting for the nation? They say CIC’s interpretation of the law is wrong. If they think so, there is a process to challenge the order by filing a writ in a high court. If they are not happy with the high court’s order they can go to the supreme court. To say that “because I don’t like an order, I am going to change the law” seems to imply that you believe the order is right as the law stands but it does not suit you. The CIC has given certain orders against the supreme court, and even the apex court challenged the same in a high court.
The fact is, even a small NGO or a school that has received '50 lakh or '1 crore in grant from the government has to open itself to RTI queries. How can political parties that receive financial help in various ways from the government be exempt from RTI then?
The parties contend that if the RTI Act applies to them, they will be flooded by so many queries that they will never be able to function. But in the eight years since its inception, this law has been applied to various aided institutions and NGOs apart from the army, police and a whole range of government departments. Have we heard of any institution whose work was affected because of RTI queries?
What is then so unique about a political party?
Another objection raised by the parties is that people will come up with questions like why and how this or that candidate was selected. That cannot happen. People will only inquire about the process followed. If you have a written process, declare it. If you don’t have it, say so. RTI seeks only what is on record.
The parties also argue that they are already answerable to the election commission (EC) and income tax (I-T) department, so they need not be made answerable to the people. That’s a façade. The fact is that the parties’ relationship with EC and I-T department is very comfortable and convenient. If the EC was doing its job of regulating these parties, so many of them would have been deregistered. The I-T department, too, could have acted against most political parties but we have never heard of it.
So, if this is not happening, is it all clean or just a marriage of convenience?
We would like to ask our political leaders: do they want to improve their organisations or not? If they want a better political system, they should be willing to accept transparency. If they don’t want transparency, it means they are not willing to struggle for a better India. Is this what our prime minister and the leaders of opposition really believe? I am not talking of the Raja Bhaiyas of the world. If the PM was serious, he should have told the cabinet, “This amendment will not happen.”
Transparency builds trust in institutions over a period of time. Today, political parties by and large are held very poorly in public perception. RTI will be instrumental in improving these organisations by exposing the wrongdoers.
For a moment let’s assume that parties and leaders have a different vision and think people like me are small guys who don’t understand that. But in a democracy should any changes in law, particularly those that affect citizens’ fundamental rights, be altered surreptitiously, or should it be through an open forum? Even today none of us in this country know what amendments to RTI were initially proposed in 2006 and are to be applied now.
The least they could do is disclose those amendments, give a chance to citizens to voice their views, take one or two months and then amend if required. Instead, the political parties appear to bring it before parliament and pass it stealthily.
RTI is one of the major achievements of the UPA government. Now they are scuttling their best achievement. History will not judge them kindly.
(As told to Geetanjali Minhas)
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