Indian Government Offers Bill to Exempt Parties from RTI

13 August 2013

Legislation was introduced Aug. 12 in the Indian lower house of parliament (Lok Sabha) by the United Progressive Alliance to exempt political parties from the Right to Information Act.

The bill would a June 3, 2013, order of the Central Information Commission deeming India’s six national political parties to be “public authorities” under the RTI Act. The parties appear united in support of the exemption legislation despite objections from RTI activists.

The bill would amend to Section 2 of the RTI Act to clarify that parties would not be treated as public authorities: “Authority or body or institution of self-government established or constituted by any law made by Parliament shall not include any association or body of individuals registered or recognised as a political party under the Representation of the People Act, 1951.”

The bill, applicable retroactively, also would insert a new Section 31 in the principal Act which says that the amendment will apply “notwithstanding anything contained in any judgment, decree or order of any court or commission..,” and will prevail over “any other law for the time being in force.”

RTI activists said they will go to court if the bill is approved.

Venkatesh Nayak, coordinator of the Access to Information Programme of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), was quoted as saying that the amendment violates the right to equality and equal treatment to all persons guaranteed by the Constitution under Article 14. It seeks to treat political parties as a separate category from other substantially-financed non-governmental organizations, Nayak said, according to an article in Zee News.

The Minister of State for Personnel and Training V Narayanasamy, said in a statement about the bill that “the government considers that the CIC has made a liberal interpretation of Section 2 (h) of the said (RTI) Act in its decision.” Other laws deal with transparency of political parties and their candidates, he said.

“Declaring a political party as public authority under the RTI Act would hamper its smooth internal working…Further, the political rivals may misuse the provisions of RTI Act, thereby adversely affecting the functioning of the political parties,” the bill reads.

Donations received by political parties beyond Rs 20,000 have to be declared to the income tax department, Sibal pointed out. “This can also be made public. It is not as if the political parties operate under a veil of secrecy.”

The National Campaign for Peoples’ Right to Information condemned the bill and asked that it be referred to a standing committee for review.

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