Most Indian Parties Upset Over RTI Purview Ruling

7 June 2013

Most Indian political parties have reacted negatively to the Central Information Commission ruling bringing them under the right to information law.

Expecting an appeal, one of the two plaintiffs, the Association for Democratic Reforms, June 5 filed in the Delhi High Court to preempt any stay of the CIC order without an opportunity to be heard.

The CIC decision issued June 3 said that six national parties – the Congress, the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Nationalist Congress Party, the Communist Party of India-Marxist, the Communist Party of India and the Bahujan Samaj Party – received substantial government financial support and so are covered by the RTI law. (See previous report.)

Amending the law appears to be the current plan of the parties. Congress party officials and CPI(M) general secretary Prakash Karat said they may seek to amend the law to reverse the CIC decision.

Congress spokesperson Sandeep Dikshit said that the CIC ruling was “fundamentally” wrong as political parties are already accountable to the Election Commission, according to an article in the Hindustan Times.

Finance Minister P Chidambaram told reporters, “The CIC order is a rather unusual interpretation of the provisions of the RTI Act. To describe political parties as public authority strains credulity… it does not appear to be based on credible argument.”

Karat ruled out appealing the order, saying that “there seems to be a consensus among national parties against the CIC ruling,” according to a Times of India report.

In a commentary, Karat wrote:

This order stems from a lack of understanding and a basic misconception about the role of political parties in a parliamentary democracy. Political parties are not governmental organisations or State funded entities. There is no Constitutional provision for a political party. A political party is an association of citizens who come together voluntarily to form a party. This can be on the basis that they subscribe to a particular ideology, programme and leadership that the party stands for or espouses.

He feared that the CIC’s new order would allow requests for internal party deliberative documents.

Senior BJP leader Arun Jaitley was quoted as saying, “Because of the public character of political parties there is nothing wrong in making their funding public.” He said other entities that receive concessions from the government also should be covered.  BJP spokesman Capt Abhimanyu told Indian Express, “BJP is not against anything that brings transparency and accountability which is equally applicable to all. We will follow the law.”

The president of the Janata Dal (United), Sharad Yadav, said the order was “no way justified.”

On the other hand, Communist Party of India leader Gurudas Dasgupta said, “We welcome it. We want RTI to be extended to political parties because political parties are a part of the political establishment of the country. We will not challenge it in the court of law.” He was quoted in a Times of India report.

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