Indian Cabinet Approves Bill to Exempt Parties from RTI

2 August 2013

The Indian Cabinet Aug. 1 approved proposed amendments to the Right to Information Act to nullify an order of the Central Information Commission making the six national political parties subject to the RTI law.

The draft amendments are expected to be introduced in the monsoon session of Parliament beginning on Aug. 5. The consensus among the major parties makes passage appear likely, despite public protests by election reform and pro-RTI organizations.

The CIC in early June said political parties are covered entities because they receive financial support from the government. Only limited funding disclosures are required by the  Representation of People’s Act and the Income Tax Act, but the parties argue that these are sufficient and less disruptive that RTI coverage.

The CIC ordered six parties – the Congress, the BJP, the Communist Party of India, the CPI (Marxist), the Nationalist Congress Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party to establish mechanisms to handle RTI queries by July 15, but the directive was ignored.

“Declaring political parties as public authorities under the Right to Information Act would hamper their smooth internal functioning since it will encourage political rivals to file RTI applications with malicious intentions,” according to a “government note” quoted by The Hindustan Times.

The Times says the proposed definition of a covered public authority “shall not include any political party registered under the Representation of People’s Act (RPA) and no litigation related to this shall be entertained by any court of law.”

The government has justified its decision stating that the existing laws – Representation of People’s Act and the Income Tax Act – provide “adequate transparency in respect of financial aspects of political parties.”

“Relevant provisions of the RPA provide for mandatory declaration of assets and liabilities by every elected MP. This law also puts an obligation on every candidate contesting elections to keep a separate and correct account of all expenditure incurred,” said a government official.

Objections Mounting

The National Election Watch and Association for Democratic Reforms (NEWADR) “has appealed to all Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha MPs to not support the proposed amendment of the Right to Information Act 2005,” according to The Business Standard. More than 1,200 organizations are members of National Election Watch.

The National Campaign for People’s Right to Information (NCPRI) has urged that protests be held on Aug. 6. Members of NCPRI will hold protests in front of the Parliament on Aug. 6.

An NCPRI email states, “There is an urgent need for people to collectively and publicly oppose the proposed amendments to the RTI Act and safeguard this fundamental right. Please email us details of the public action being planned by you at ncpri.india@gmail.com.”

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