Are activists barking at the wrong tree on political parties being under RTI?

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.

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COMMENTS

sonia

5 years ago

To selectively borrow from a message printed on the bills of a Mumbai eatery that fell victim to recent Youth Congress and police vindictiveness in Mumbai: ‘As per UPA Govt, eating money (2G, Coal, CWG Scam), collecting donations from the public for dubious ‘relief’ funds, putting the interests of ‘top businessmen’ and foreign investors before the people of India, having the latter’s every thought, word and action policed by agencies that have repeatedly been used by the Congress to perpetrate atrocities against innocent citizens (e.g. States of Emergency, ’84 Pogrom etc) for which the guilty have repeatedly got away…All those are considered necessities. But, public scrutiny of UPA party-funding, now THAT is an outrage!
Any political party that refuses to allow public scrutiny of its funding should be barred, by Election Commission of India, from contesting elections.

Sethi

5 years ago

One way or the other citizens of this country need to take on the political parties for refusing to heed the CIC's order of 3rd June 2013. How can be these parties frame laws in Parliament when they themselves are breaking the law . It is typical of the political class to arrogate themselves to above the law . However what is encouraging some of the regional parties are seeing the light of the day . ADR in it's latest press release has stated some of the regional parties have responded to it's RTI applications .

Pune RTI activists start filing complaints against political parties for defying CIC order to appoint PIOs
The deadline of 16th July is over and political parties are trying devious means to be out of the RTI ambit. Pune activists though have triggered off action by sending a complaint to the CCIC for non-compliance of its order
 
With the political parties defying the Central Information Commission’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, RTI activists from Pune have lodged a complaint with the Chief Central Information Commissioner (CCIC) for non-compliance of the Commission’s order.
 
The complaint signed by several RTI activists like  Major General SCN Jatar (retd), Vijay Kumbhar,Vivek Velankar, Jugal Rathi and others including this writer, has requested CCIC Satyananda Mishra to “take necessary action and order them (political parties) to appoint PIOs, Appellate Authorities & disclose details of their working.”
 
The letter which has been sent on 16th July states: “This is to complain regarding non-compliance of your order dt 3 June 2013 that political parties—Congress, BJP, BSP, NCP, CPI and CPM—should appoint PIOs, Appellate Authorities and disclose all the details of their working in six weeks i.e. 15 July 2013. We have visited and thoroughly browsed the respective websites of all the political parties mentioned in your said order. We did not find any action taken in compliance of your order.”
 
Earlier, the CIC had made it clear that it does not have any authority to suo motu direct the political parties to abide by the order. However, in case of complaints by the citizens of non-implementation of the same, the CIC can begin the process once again.
 
The signatories include Vivek Velankar, Jugal Rathi and  V Sahasrabuddhe of Sajag Nagrik Manch,Pune; Maj Gen(Retd) Sudhir Jatar of Nagrik Chetna Manch; Vijay Kumbhar of Surajya Sangharsh Samiti; Dr Shriram Pande, RTI Forum,Pimpri Chinchwad, Vinita Deshmukh of
RTI Forum for Instant Information and Vihar Durve.
 
Delhi-based RTI activist Commodore Lokesh Batra (retd) has brought to the notice of the government, of its own press release issued on 8 July 2008 which states the government will not make any amendments to RTI without consultations with civil society. The press release reads thus: “The government proposes to strengthen right to information by suitably amending the laws to provide for disclosure by government in all non-strategic areas. In this regard, it is proposed to review the number of organizations in the second schedule to the Right to Information Act, 2005, and make rules for more disclosure of information by public authorities. 
 
"Government has received representations expressing doubts about the proposed amendments. Non-governmental organisations and social activists will be consulted on the proposed amendments. However, no time frame can be fixed for completion of the process. This information was given by minister of state in the ministry of personnel, public grievances & pensions, Prithviraj Chavan in a written reply to a question in Lok Sabha."
 
Batra has shot off a letter to president Pranab Mukherjee stating that political parties should seek legal intervention if they do not want to be under RTI Act and not circumvent illegally as it amounts to contempt of assurance given in the Parliament. He states, “Sir, there are media reports that the government is contemplating to counter the decision of the CIC declaring six political parties as public authorities which are subject to the Right to Information Act by amending the RTI Act, 2005. The representatives of all political parties have stated that they believe the CIC decision is unsound legally and hence they are opposing it. If they are being truthful, they can certainly go in a writ to the courts. In the past CIC decisions have been quashed by the courts. In the instant case I cannot see any reason which justifies any amendment to the RTI Act, 2005, by the government and that too without consulting all the stakeholders/citizens at large that include non-governmental organisations and social activists.”
 
Delhi-based RTI activist Subhash Agrawal states that, “if the Union government and political parties are so sure about a full-bench verdict from the Central Information Commission (CIC) for bringing political parties under the RTI Act to be contrary to the law, they should challenge the CIC verdict in the courts rather than adopting short cut route of ordinance or legislation instead of breaking the solemn assurance given by Union government to people of this nation in the Parliament. President of India in his dual capacity as Head of the nation and the Parliament should honour assurance given in this regard by his government in the Parliament in this regard.”
 
Agrawal along with Anil Bahirwal had filed a RTI application to all six major political parties seeking information on funding they received from various sources. Communist Party of India (CPI) was the only party which provided a detailed reply. States Agrawal, “CPI should be complimented for being the first and the only political party for disclosing funding made to it by various sources even though it did not approve of CIC-verdict bringing political parties under ambit of RTI Act.”
Agrawal says it is important that political parties should be under RTI as besides funding, “important aspects of poll-reforms can also be queried from political parties through properly drafted RTI petitions which can practically provide nation and its public purity in poll and political system.”
 
However, with political parties united, when it comes to defending their alleged financial misappropriations, it is unlikely that transparency in this area will come so fast. For, earlier the government had planned to bring in an ordinance to keep political parties out of RTI ambit, before 15th July (the time within which political parties had to appoint PIOs and AAs). However, due to the furore of the civil society, now it has decided to bring the amendment in the form of a bill in the Monsoon session of the Parliament. Guess, even the UPA’s die-hard enemy in the Parliament will not oppose it. Such is the tragedy of our democracy.
 
(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”.)
 
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COMMENTS

Jagmohan S

5 years ago

Congrass ki Nihat kharab hai, because unki party mein bauat GAPLAY Hai ....

RTI

5 years ago

RTI Foundation of India
Goa vigilance department demanded to be put beyond the purview of the RTI Act

Read more at: http://www.rtifoundationofindia.com/goa-...#.UfpzldJHJcg
RTI Foundation of India

sonia

5 years ago

To selectively borrow from a message printed on the bills of a Mumbai eatery that fell victim to recent Youth Congress vindictiveness in Mumbai: As per UPA Govt, eating money (2G, Coal, CWG Scam), collecting donations from the public for dubious ‘relief’ funds, putting the interests of ‘top businessmen’ and foreign investors before the people of India, having the latter’s every thought, word and action policed by agencies that have repeatedly been used by the Congress to perpetrate atrocities against innocent citizens (e.g. States of Emergency, ’84 Pogrom etc) for which the guilty have repeatedly got away…All those are considered necessities. But, public scrutiny of UPA party-funding, now THAT is an outrage!
Any political party that refuses to allow public scrutiny of its funding should be barred, by Election Commission of India, from contesting elections.

Jagmohan S

5 years ago

we should start campaign against it...
Jagmohan Gill
Social Activist
Punjab

Sethi

5 years ago

Vinita , the people of India have long memories . Let us see which political party supports the legislation to keep parties out of the ambit of the RTI Act in the monsoon session of Parliament . 2014 is not far away . The politicians will get their answer .

Raja JohnBunch

5 years ago

I had filed 4 RTIs with Political parties. 1 Party reply was due on 10th. No reply ,have filed Complaint with CIC on 11/7/13.
2 complaints due tomm. Will do so.
Rgds
Raja John Bunch
Borivali W
9969972283

sathyacumaran

5 years ago

sathya cumaran i wanted to know what is procedure to get information about non complaicne of duty by sebi nse bse can i approach rti for not taking my case i need your help reply


sathyacumaran
09444021822

Gujarat citizens show the way; vote in publicly kept ballot boxes against Ordinance to keep political parties out of RTI

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”.)

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