Indian Commission Considers Penalties in Political Case

8 January 2015

The Indian Central Information Commission has taken a preliminary step to deal with six political parties refusing to obey its order to comply with the right to information law, and a bigger decision is pending.

The CIC on Jan. 4 told the Urban Development Ministry to make public all records of land and bungalows allotted to political parties. The Commission ruled in June of 2013 that the parties receive enough government support to qualify as “public authorities” under the RTI Act.

The parties have refused to comply with the CIC’s orders and on Jan. 7 again boycotted a CIC hearing on their non-compliance.

Several leading RTI activists and petitioners in the case — Subhash Agarwal and Jagdeep Chhokar — recommended punitive actions.

Chhokar asked for compensation of Rs. 44 crore ($7 million) — 5 per cent of the income declared by the parties in the last five years. He said his organization would donate it the Prime Minister’s Relief Fund, according to a report by The Hindu.

Agarwal called for the discontinuation of all subsidies extended to the parties, such as land allotments, free air-time on official media, government accommodations, and tax exemptions.

At the end of the hearing, Information Commissioner Vijai Sharma said the Bench would reserve its order.

“I do not recall a single case in which the CIC’s orders have been so completely defied. Usually aggrieved parties at least go to court to seek a stay,” Shailesh Gandhi, former Central Information Commissioner, told The Hindu.

“We have asked that notice for penalty compensation be issued immediately. If the political parties do not comply with that, we will see what to do next, but we are determined to fight this to the finish,” Mr. Chhokar said.

The commission can issue summons and even an arrest warrant if its summons are not honored, Gandhi said.

Chhokar was quoted as saying, “This behaviour is having a potentially catastrophic impact on the reputation of Indian democracy.”

The political parties also did not appear at a November hearing and have not challenged the ruling in court.

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