Congress brags about bringing in the RTI Act but was the only party to skip the CIC hearing
In a crucial second CIC hearing on 1st November regarding whether political parties should come under RTI, all recognised political parties argued against it, while the Congress did not even send its representative for the hearing
Recently Moneylife had carried the story of how, at the Central Information Commission (CIC) hearing on 26th September, only NCP and CPI sent their representatives to give their opinion on whether “political parties should be declared as public authorities and brought under the purview of RTI.” (Indian political parties fear RTI consequences; skip CIC hearing )
The full bench of the CIC was forced to keep the matter pending to give the general secretaries of other major political parties, one more chance. Thus, the next hearing took place on 1st November. This was a sequel to complaints made by RTI applicants Anil Bairwal and Subhash Chandra Agarwal who appealed to the CIC that they were not supplied information or were given only part information by all the five major political parties. Congress and CPI (M) had flatly refused information stating that they do not come under the purview of the RTI Act.
It may be recalled that Bairwal and Agarwal had sought the following information from the five major political parties:
- • Details of 10 maximum voluntary contributions received by the party from fiscal 2004-05 to fiscal 2009-10
• Details pertaining to voluntary contributors along with their addresses who have made single contribution of more than Rs1 lakh to the party from fiscal 2004-05 to fiscal 2009-10
The Congress high command and its senior political leaders who do not miss any opportunity to tom-tom about having brought in the RTI Act was the only political party which did not send its representative at the crucial CIC hearing on 1st November. The CIC had asked the general secretaries of the All India Congress Committee, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Communist Party of India (Marxist), Communist Party of India, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), Bahujan Samaj Party and Public Information Officer of the Election Commission of India to be present.
The full bench, comprising Chief Information Commissioner Satyanand Mishra and Commissioners ML Sharma and Annapurna Dikshit, of the Central Information Commission (CIC) conducted the second hearing. Earlier, CPI was the only political party which had replied that: “a) Yes. We are Public Authority under Section 2 (h)(d)(ii) ‘non-government organisation substantially financed, directly or indirectly by funds provided by the appropriate government’; and b) we have our internal appellate authority ‘Central Control Commission’.” The CPI also promptly provided a list of their largest donors, their addresses and the mode of payment of these donations.
Predictably but disgustingly, at the November CIC hearing, there was vehement opposition from all political parties to declare themselves as “Public Authorities” under the RTI Act, 2005. According to a press release issued by Anil Bairwal of the Association of Democratic Reforms (ADR), Sharad Pawar’s NCP stated to the CIC that coming under RTI would be dangerous for them. Its representative said that the information regarding the donors to the political parties might be used to threaten the donors and these donors would also be intimidated by the rival political parties.NCP also feared that huge machinery involving lots of manpower would be needed to cater to the responses of RTI applications, if political parties are made public authorities. Its representative also explained that its funding from government is just a minute percentage of the overall income.
Mayawati’s BSP deposed that no amount of funding—direct or indirect—is provided to the party from the government. The party’s representative argued that facilities such as income tax exemptions, plots of land, properties and buildings at concessional rents, free air time and other facilities don’t constitute funding. Its representative also argued that there should be a government notification for political parties to come under RTI.
BJP and CPI (M) together chorused that the intent of legislature while making the RTI Act was never to bring political parties under the jurisdiction of the Act.
The CIC’s November hearing has reserved the judgment, thus dragging the crucial issue of political parties dodging transparency.
Anil Bairwal has submitted incisive and in-depth arguments to the CIC by quoting several high court and Supreme Court judgments as to why political parties are ‘Public Authorities’. Bairwal also states that, “A political party controls its nation by getting its candidates elected to the public offices. Political parties visibly declare that they work for the upliftment of the public. Political parties in their hunt for power spend more than Rs1,000 crore during elections. Nobody accounts for the bulk of the money so spent and there is no accountability anywhere. There are no proper accounts and no audit at all. In a democracy where rule of law prevails, this type of naked display of black money, by violating the mandatory provisions of law, cannot be permitted.”
For other news and articles on RTI, click here.
Bairwal states that if political parties come under RTI, “Citizens can check commonplace evils like giving tickets to criminals, tickets based on the sole criteria of money, disclosure of the criteria of selection of candidates and it would also reveal corruption. If the internal functioning of political parties is made public, then they would become more accountable.”
Bairwal points out the following reasons why political parties are ‘Public Authorities’ and should therefore come under the RTI Act:
- • State funding on free airtime for political parties during elections on state-owned television, Doordarshan, and radio, Akashwani as per order no. 437/TVs/2009/M&TS of Election Commission of India
- • State funding on electoral rolls during elections: Under the provisions of rules 11 and 12 of the Registration of Electors Rules, 1960, two copies of the electoral roll, one printed copy and another in a CD is supplied to recognised political parties, free of cost, after draft and final publications. RTI queries reveal that approximately Rs56,525 is spent per candidate hence it is “substantial funding.”
- • Tax payable exempted for political parties: As per section 13A of the Income Tax Act large amount of money is exempted under tax exemption on the income of political parties. Income Tax returns filed by political parties were analysed with expert help and on the basis of which Bairwal says that they have been able to calculate tax payable, which is exempted for the national parties. For example, between financial years of 2006 and 2009, tax exemptions for Congress and BJP are to the tune of Rs300 crore and Rs141 crore, respectively
- • State funding per year on rent of government/public offices for political parties: Political parties are also provided facilities for residential and official use by the Directorate of Estates. They are charged a token amount of money as rent or dues for these properties. Various facilities have been provided to political parties’ office bearers for official and residential purposes in prime areas of Lutyen’s Delhi. Information on these facilities was accessed under RTI from the Directorate of Estates. There are many more such residential and official facilities given to political parties in various parts of the country.
To conclude, in one of the judgments, the Supreme Court had stated: “In a government of responsibility, where all agents of the public must be responsible for their conduct, there can be but few secrets. The people of this country have a right to know every public act, everything that is done in a public way, by their public functionaries. They are entitled to know the particulars of every public transaction in all its bearing…”
Read other articles by the same writer, here.
(Vinita Deshmukh is the consulting editor of Moneylife, an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte” with Vinita Kamte and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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