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No beating about the bush.
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:
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:
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 [email protected].)
The Election Commission dismissed Dr Swamy's plea holding that it did not fall under any of the grounds specified for de-recognition of a political party
The Commission, after its full meeting, headed by Chief Election Commissioner VS Sampath, dismissed the plea holding that it did not fall under any of the grounds specified for de-recognition of a political party.
"The ground urged by you seeking de-recognition of the party under reference in the present case does not fall under any of the grounds specified under the said paragraph 16A for such recognition," the Commission said in a letter to Swamy.
The Commission further stated that the 3rd and 5th November letters written by Swamy were "not maintainable" under paragraph 16A of the Election Symbols (Reservation and Allotment) Order, 1968, which gives powers to the Election Commission to suspend or withdraw recognition of a recognised political party for its failure to observe Model Code of Conduct or follow the Commission's directions.
The Commission has also said that even though the Representation of People Act, 1951 provides for the manner in which the registered political parties may raise their funds, "there is no provision whatsoever in that Act prescribing the manner in which the political parties may use those funds."
The EC letter further states that, "If the party has not complied with any of the provisions of the Income Tax Act, 1961, as alleged by you, that matter does not fall within the jurisdiction of the Commission."
Swamy, the president of Janata Party, had earlier alleged that the Indian National Congress headed by Sonia Gandhi be de-recognised by the Election Commission on the grounds that the party had loaned more than Rs 90 crore to a company named Associated Journals Private Limited, in violation of the guidelines and rules for registration as well as recognition of political parties.
The Commission has also taken serious exception to Swamys allegation questioning EC's impartiality and rejected it as "completely baseless".
"...the Commission does not have anything to do with newspaper reports referred to by you. The Commission had not taken any decision in the matter on the 3rd or 4th November, 2012 and, therefore, leaking of the decision by anyone does not arise. The Commission takes serious exception to your allegation questioning the impartiality of the Commission which the Commission rejects as completely baseless," the EC said.
The Commission further said that the reliance placed on section 146 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 and the General Clauses Act, 1897, in support of Swamy's prayer for a hearing by the Commission in the matter was also "misplaced".
"The present case is not the case of one such inquiry as contemplated under the said section 146 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951," the Commission told Swamy.
Swamy had on 3rd November moved the EC seeking derecognition of Congress, alleging the party violated laws by providing a Rs90 crore loan to a company that published the now-defunct National Herald newspaper.
In a letter to the EC, Swamy said Congress has "prima facie" committed an offence under electoral law as well as Income Tax law for which it is necessary to hold hearings and decide on derecognising the party.
His petition came as a follow up to his charges against Congress President Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi over acquisition of Associated Journals that published the newspaper to which Congress gave the loan.
He had said Associated Journals obtained an unsecured loan of Rs90 crore from AICC which he claimed was illegal under Income Tax Act because a political party cannot give loans for commercial purposes.
"This loan is in violation of the Guidelines and Rules that has to be mandatorily followed by political parties for registration as well as recognition. Section 29A to C of RPA and Section 13A of IT Act do not make any provision for any political party to extend loans to companies with or without interest," Swamy said in the letter.
The Infosys founder had given Rs99 lakh so far, to Kejriwal's Public Cause Research Foundation and brought Tata Social Welfare Trust on board to donate an equal amount to raise awareness about RTI
New Delhi: After the Tatas, Infosys founder Narayana Murthy on Tuesday said he has not given donation to Arvind Kejriwal for political activities and had declined a request from him for financial assistance two months ago, reports PTI.
Murthy had in 2008 agreed to give Kejriwal's Public Cause Research Foundation (PCRF) Rs25 lakh per year for five years and brought Tata Social Welfare Trust on board to donate an equal amount for the same period to raise awareness about Right to Information (RTI).
"When Kejriwal approached me in September 2012 asking for financial assistance, I declined. Hence I have not financially supported Kejriwal's political activities," Murthy said in a statement.
After splitting with Anna Hazare's anti-corruption movement, Kejriwal has announced the setting up of a political party to fight corruption and bring in change.
In the statement, Murthy said Kejriwal approached him in 2008 seeking funds for instituting awards to recognise the efforts of officials, NGO and public in the field of RTI.
"I sent Rs25 lakh for 2008 and 2009 and Rs37 lakh for 2010 and Rs25 lakh for 2011," he said, adding the additional funds of Rs12 lakh in 2010 were required to give extra awards, for honouring families RTI activists who were murdered and travel costs of awardees.
"However, Kejriwal wrote to me in May 2011 that the Secretariat of the Foundation was busy in drafting Jan Lokpal Bill and that they would not be able to have the awards in 2011. He also asked me whether it was OK to use this amount of Rs25 lakh towards the secretarial expenses of the Jan Lokpal Bill effort," he said.
Murthy said he agreed to his request as he believed that the country needed a "moderate but effective" Lokpal Bill.
However, Tatas said yesterday it refused to accept the request and PCRF returned the grant of Rs25 lakh for the year 2011. There have been no further grants from TSWT to the foundation, the statement said.