Deadline Passes, Indian Parties Resist Compliance

16 July 2013

July 15 was the deadline for six Indian political parties to appoint information officers and begin complying with the right to information, but they have not, according to Indian newspapers.

The Central Information Commissioner on June 3 gave the parties six-weeks to act, but since then most of the parties have supported the idea of legislation to overturn the controversial commission order. The government is considering a proposal to amend the RTI Act, probably during the Monsoon Session of Parliament which is scheduled to begin Aug. 5. The parties have concluded their consultations and a bill will be offered, according to a report in Zee News.

The CIC held that the six national parties — Congress, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), Communist Party of India (Marxist) or CPM, Communist Party of India (CPI) and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) — receive enough financial support from the government o qualify them as public authorities under the RTI Act.

Information and Broadcasting Minister Manish Tewari July 15 continued to voice the parties’ objections, saying, “If the intent was to bring political parties under it, the RTI Act should have stated that. We have said very respectfully that the CIC’s order is misconceived and fails on the fundamental appreciation of the law.”

None of the parties have appointed information officers or agreed to come under the RTI Act, according to media reports, such as by the Press Trust of India.

The Communi­st Party of India disclosed information about its funding to an RTI applicant, who praised the party. But the CPI General Secretary spoke strongly against the CIC action, the New Indian Express reported.

BJP spokesperson Captain Abhimanyu said, “We believe in transparency in the political system. Any information asked for should be made available. We comply with the Election Commission rules and we always furnish all details about income tax on our website.”

If an application is filed under the RTI Act, the parties have 30 days in which to answer, after which an aggrieved person may appeal the lack of response and eventually lodge a complaint with the commission.

“I would be filing a non-compliance complaint with the CIC as most of the parties have failed to provide the information sought,” Anil Bairwal of Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) told the Hindustan Times. Efforts to force compliance were also descibed in a MoneyLife article.

“Political parties are not taking this seriously probably because they know that they are all together in this and if there is any action taken, it would be against all of them,” said Subhash Chandra Agrawal, RTI activist and another appellant in the case, according to a report in LiveMint.

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