Indian Parties May Seek Exemption From RTI Act

1 July 2013

The leading political parties of India reportedly have agreed to support an amendment that would exempt them from coverage under the right to information law.

The political parties appear unified in their desire to overturn a controversial early June ruling by the Central Information Commission bringing them under the purview of the RTI Act. (See previous report.)

Supporters of the act are warning against amending the act.

The government, however, is considering the use of a special “ordinance” procedure to implement an exemption quickly, according to media reports. The Constitution permits the president to issue an ordinance when parliament is not in session. The ordinance shall cease to operate at the expiration of six weeks after Parliament reassembles, or if it is disapproved by Parliament. Parliament is not in session until the third week in July.

A Daily Mail report said the law ministry was circulated a draft ordinance that would change the definition of “public authority” in the law to exempt political parties. Another report said political parties would be classified as associations of individuals.

One new report, however, said the government’s plan to take the ordinance route “is finding few takers within the government itself.”

Sources told The Indian Express that some senior officials feared that the tactic would be viewed as being anti-transparency.

The paper said:

“While there is no doubt in my mind that the CIC order is wrong and would not stand judicial scrutiny, how can the government issue an ordinance in this regard? Also, what is the hurry? Have the affected parties exhausted all legal remedies available to them? I am sure the idea of issuing the ordinance is just part of the thought process and will be dumped soon,” said a senior UPA functionary.

Opponents Warn Against Amendment

Former central information commissioner Shailesh Gandhi, social activists Aruna Roy and Arvind Kejriwal, and others issued a statement opposing amending the law.

In a separate statement, the National Campaign for People’s Right To Information (NCPRI) said: “We believe that the CIC order will go a long way in ensuring transparency and accountability in the functioning of political parties. Inclusion of political parties under the RTI Act will ensure that parties are accountable to the people of the country.”

“This only goes to show that when political parties themselves are subject to the transparency law, they are willing to go to the extent of amending this landmark legislation to ensure that they are not open to public scrutiny under the Act, the NCPRI said.

Former Attorney-General Soli Sorabjee said to go the ordinance route would be “an abuse of constitutional power,” because the provision was intended for extraordinary situations.

The controversy was the subject of a NDTV discussion called “Political Parties Gang Up Against RTI.”

While most political partiers oppose the CIC decision, the Lok Satta Party said that it would legally challenge the Union Government’s “bid to exempt political parties from the ambit of the Right to Information Act (RTI).”

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