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No beating about the bush.
While some activists have started filing complaints before the CIC about political parties flouting its directions, few other activists feel that the Commission's jurisdiction over a 'complaint' is discretionary but its 'appellate jurisdiction' is statutory. Therefore, activists should first file an RTI and then complaint to the CIC
With the political parties defying the Central Information Commission (CIC)’s orders to appoint Public Information Officers (PIOs), Appellate Authorities (AAs) and implement voluntary disclosure of information under Section 4 of the RTI Act, by 15th July, several activists are lodging complaints before the Commission. However, contrary to this view, some RTI activists believe that since the CIC has exhausted its powers under sub-section 19(8)(ii) of the RTI Act, it would be better if activists first file an RTI and after not receiving information from political parties should file appeal before the Commission.
RTI activist Sarbajit Roy, who is also national convenor of India Against Corruption said, "...whereas the CIC's 'complaint jurisdiction' is discretionary in its application, its 'appellate jurisdiction' is statutory and compulsory in its application as upheld by the Supreme Court and various High Courts."
On 3 June 2013, a three-member bench of CIC in two complaints under the RTI directed as:
92 ... "The order of the Single Bench of this Commission in Complaint No. CIC/MISC/2009/0001 and CIC/MISC/2009/0002 is hereby set aside and it is held that All India Congress Committee (AICC)/Indian National Congress (INC), Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Communist Party of India (Marxist)-CPI(M), Communist Party of India (CPI), Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) are public authorities under section 2(h) of the RTI Act.
93. The Presidents, General/Secretaries of these Political Parties are hereby directed to designate CPIOs and the Appellate Authorities at their headquarters in 6 weeks’ time. The CPIOs so appointed will respond to the RTI applications extracted in this order in 04 weeks’ time. Besides, the Presidents/General Secretaries of the above mentioned Political Parties are also directed to comply with the provisions of section 4(1) (b) of the RTI Act by way of making voluntary disclosures on the subjects mentioned in the said clause."
The time of six weeks given in this order elapsed on 16 July 2013, from the dare these six political parties were expected to comply with the directions (of CIC) to appoint their CPIOs to receive and deal with RTI requests from the citizens.
Upon the date of 16 July 2013 having come and gone without the parties having designated their CPIOs, a section of RTI activists have gone about submitting complaints to the CIC that the parties have flouted the CIC's directions.
According to some RTI activists, such general complaints, without actual RTI applications being submitted, are not maintainable under the provisions of the RTI Act for the following reason…
A) The CIC has already declared the parties to be "public authority" and directed them to designate their CPIOs and Appellate Authorities within a specific time. The CIC has therefore exhausted its powers under sub-section 19(8)(ii) of the RTI Act. There is nothing further the CIC can do in its complaint jurisdiction, if a political party refuses to comply with its directions to appoint a CPIO.
Therefore, Roy said, the optimum strategy for RTI activists now would be to proceed as though the political parties have complied with the CIC's directions and start lodging / sending their RTI requests to the Headquarters of the concerned political parties addressed to the "Central Public Information Officer / RTI Act". The same should be done immediately, as it is very likely that some party will obtain a stay order soon against the CIC's directions, or perhaps the RTI Act itself will be amended temporarily through the ordinance route.
The persons who have lodged their RTIs prior to the stay / ordinance are liable to treated as a separate class and will have liberty to approach CIC for relief / information despite a subsequent stay order.
According to Roy, the CIC's decision is poorly drafted and is unlikely to stand up to judicial scrutiny in the long run. "In particular, the CIC has not dealt with the contentions urged by the NCP and CPI, to the effect that political parties are bodies of private persons statutorily reporting to the Election Commission, and that all their information which is available to the Election Commission under any law can be accessed by citizens from the Election Commission or other state authorities under section 2(f) of the RTI Act. Any other interpretation would create an absurd situation whereby citizens can get information under RTI from public authorities beyond what is available to supervisory Constitutional authorities or even Parliament under statutes. That it is such poor quality decisions emanating from the CIC which caused the Supreme Court last year to impugn the Information Commissioners for their lack of judicial mind," he said.
Roy said on 17 July 2013, he sent an RTI request to the Congress Party (accessible here : https://lists.riseup.net/www/arc/indiaresists/2013-07/msg00051.html ) asking for the following information related to the Party's Vice President Rahul Gandhi's widely reported statement of 14 April 2012 "I am a Brahmin...and General Secretary in the Congress Party".
(i) If it is true that Shri Rahul Gandhi was General Secretary of the party on 14 April 2012.
ii) If it is true that Shri Rahul Gandhi was a Brahmin on 14 April 2012.
iii) Provide me copies of all the supporting documents on basis of which these claims / statements were made by Shri Rahul Gandhi. In the alternative, the rejoinder, if any, to the newspapers concerned about their reportage and its veracity.
iv) Provide me the extract(s) from audited Account Books of INC party to show that Shri Rahul Gandhi (senior office bearer of INC Party) has been timely in depositing 1% of his annual income as required under the published Rules/Regulations of the Indian National Congress Party.
Roy said when the Congress Party evades replying to him, he intends to move to the CIC under its Appellate jurisdiction to get penalties levied for 'repeated and wilful refusals to accept and deal with RTI requests' if the said information is not supplied.
8,000 citizens have voted against the government’s ordinance to keep political parties outside the RTI ambit; Gujarat activists working overtime to spread awareness and participation
Bhadresh Wamja, a teenager from Saladi village in Gujarat who created history by using the Right to Information (RTI) Act to streamline the Public Distribution System (PDS) in his village, has begun a drive to collect as many ballot papers (created for the purpose) by encouraging citizens to put in their vote of whether they want an Ordinance passed by the government to keep political parties out of the ambit of RTI Act.
Pangti Jog, member of the Mahiti Adhikar Gujarat Pahel (MAG), an organisation dedicated to RTI activities is steering this state-wide campaign. She says that, “More than 8,000 people have voted against... not a single vote for the amendment or in favour of political parties. We are planning to collect over 50,000 votes. We are also starting an email campaign today, where citizens will send an email to the president. We are hoping to send more than 1,000 such emails before 15th July by when political parties have to appoint PIO and Appellate Authorities and abide by suo motu Section 4 disclosures, as per CIC order of 3rd June. Already more than 500 people have sent emails to the president requesting not to sign any ordinance.”
Besides, several citizen groups across Gujarat are protesting against the government’s intention to dilute RTI act, to exclude political parties. Ms Jog states that ballot papers are being circulated to citizen groups across state which are actively working for RTI awareness and promotion.
Citizen groups in Surat are holding outreach programmes in public gardens and colleges by having signature campaigns. Other activities include requesting eminent citizens to send letters to editors; calling upon elected representatives and starting e-petitions.
The ballot boxes will be sent to the Speaker of the Lok Sabha, says Ms Jog, with a note that, “As our representatives are amending RTI without taking our consent... we are compelled to send our votes directly.”
Contact persons for the Gujarat campaign: Ajay Jangid - Surat (8000833301) & Bhadresh Wamja (09898810421), Ratna Ala (Rajkot) Bharat Ghughar (Rajkot) Riyaz (Kutch) Falguniben (N. Gujarat)
You may also want to read: Activists fear Ordinance soon to keep political parties out of RTI
(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”.)