Issue: Political Parties under RTI

Any entity under RTI act will be deemed to be a public authority if it gets ‘substantial’ funding from the state. The question of whether the political parties come or not under the RTI has been a major issues in recent times. In a landmark decision, the CIC in 2013 had held that political parties are indeed “public authorities” observing that political parties have substantial funding from the state in following manner

Income tax exemptions

  • Huge tracts of land in prime areas of Delhi have been lend to Political parties at very low rents
  • Free air time of Doordarshan and radio is given to political parties
  • Further CIC also observed that political parties directly or indirectly impact public life. The CIC questioned if transparency can be good for state organs then how it can be bad for political parties. With this decision, it was clear that:
  • Political parties will now become accountable to CIC.
  • It will help in better decision making by citizens as they will be more informed now
  • Even if some embarrassing information is released it will lead to improvement in functioning and enrichment of democracy
  • More transparency leading to Lesser corruption

Issues and controversies with CIC decision

  • RTI act is citizen empowerment tool and not commission empowerment tool. This decision might lead to too much power in hands of the commission
  • It would be difficult to implement this decision as Public information Officers of the political parties are not on salary unlike the government officials. So the maximum penalty of 25,000 if ever imposed cannot be recovered.
  • RTI act was enacted keeping in mind the government functioning. Therefore, max disclosure (section 4), and exemption from disclosure (section 8) would become irrelevant for political parties
  • Some people might interfere into ticket distribution by political parties which is important for competitiveness and secrecy of the political decision making
  • This had widened the scope of RTI act too much, which was not the original objective of the RTI act.

Implications

None of the six national parties has complied with the CIC’s decision to appoint information officers and appellate authorities under the RTI. In fact the government has been looking for ways to annul the decision of the CIC.

RTI Amendment Bill

Government introduced The Right to Information (Amendment) Bill, 2013, and tried to insert an explanation in Section 2 of the Act which states that any association or body of individuals registered or recognised as political party under the Representation of the People Act, 1951, will not be considered a public authority. It is suggested that The Representation of the People Act should be amended to make it mandatory for all recognized parties, national or state, to set up the necessary RTI machinery.

Model Question for GS Mains

Discuss various issues and implications of bringing the political parties under RTI act throwing light on recent CIC decisions and government reaction in this context.

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