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It is one of those rare decisions that shall be met with unanimous political approval. In an affidavit filed before the Supreme Court, the Central Government has stated that political parties fall outside the purview of the Right to Information Act.
This comes after a petition was filed by RTI activist Subhash C Agarwal and the Association of Democratic Reforms, seeking to bring political parties under ‘public authority’ in Section 2 (h) of the Act. This would then allow the financial details of regional and national political parties to be published in the public domain.
In fact, two Central Information Commission orders have already held that political parties do fall under Section 2(h). However, non-compliance of these orders is what has prompted the filing of the petition.
When the matter came before the Supreme Court, notice was issued to the respondents – the Central Government and six political parties, namely the BJP, INC, NCP, CPI, CPI (M), and the BSP.
The Centre’s response has been quite predictable. Arguing that political parties do not fall under S. 2(h), RK Girdhar, Under-Secretary of the DoPT, argues that the CIC has “made a very liberal interpretation” of Section 2 (h). Furthermore, political parties are not established by the Constitution or by Parliament, but constituted under the Representation of People’s Act, 1951. It is also argued that transparency, financial or otherwise, is well-protected under both, the Representation of Peoples Act, as well the Income Tax Act.
But these are not the only arguments made; it is also stated that bringing political parties under the scope of the RTI would, in fact, be a counter-productive move.
“If political parties are held to be public authorities under the RTI Act, it would hamper their smooth internal working. Further, it is apprehended that political rivals might file RTI applications with malicious intentions…thereby adversely affecting their political functioning.”
(Read the complete affidavit below)
It is evident that the Centre is hell-bent on maintaining status quo, as can also be seen from the recently introduced Bill to amend the RTI Act. The amendment seeks to categorically exclude political parties from Section 2 (h).
Even the Standing Committee the Bill was referred to recommended the passing of this Bill. Large-scale disruptions in the Monsoon Session of Parliament though, meant the Bill lapsed.