Indian CIC Says Political Parties Covered by RTI Law

3 June 2013

India’s Central Information Commission June 3 ruled that political parties are covered by the Right to Information law.

The Commission in a 54-page decision said the six national parties receive substantial indirect funding from the central government and perform public functions, thus making them public authorities under the law.

Unless overturned by a court, the parties will have to release information on donors, assets, liabilities, and spending.  The commission told the parties to appoint public information officers within six weeks to respond to RTI queries and adhere to legal provisions. They also were ordered to comply with the law’s proactive disclosure mandates.

The ruling came from Chief Information Commissioner Satyanand Mishra and Information commissioners Annapurna Dixit and M L Sharma.

The commissioners said the parties get land at concessional rates, income tax exemptions, free air time from public broadcaster and are registered by the Election Commission.

“We are of the opinion that bringing the political parties in the ambit of RTI Act is likely to usher an era of transparency in their functioning. Besides, it would result in strengthening of democracy and democratize institutions in the country,” said  the panel of  Chief Information Commissioner Satyanand Mishra and  commissioners Annapurna Dixit and M L Sharma.

The CIC said that the parties “affect the lives of the citizens, directly or indirectly in every conceivable way and are continuously engaged in performing public duty. It is, therefore, important that they become accountable to public.”

Activist Anil Bairwal of Association of Democratic Reforms and Subhash Agrawal brought the matter before the commission after being denied information by the parties on funding and donors. Under current law, the parties only need to disclose donations of over 20,000 rupees ($350.)

“If not strictly within the letter of this particular provision (d), but at least, in spirit, these political parties can be said to have been constituted by their registration by the Election Commission of India, a fact akin to the establishment or constitution of a body or institution by an appropriate government,” the Commission held.

Based its own research, the Commission detailed the value of land and buildings given to the political parties and said the parties paid no income tax. “No one can dispute that this is substantial financing, though indirectly,” according to the decision.

The commission said there is a difference between the tax exemptions given to charitable and non-profit non-governmental organizations, which can be withdrawn, and those given to political parties.

The ruling applies to the Indian National Congress, the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the Communist Party India, the Nationalist Congress Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party.

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