In your interest.
Online Personal Finance Magazine
No beating about the bush.
In a major victory to democracy, the Central Information Commission on 3rd June has ordered all political parties not only to designate PIOs and AAs within six weeks but also to abide by voluntary disclosures under Section 4 of the RTI Act
It took Right to Information (RTI) activists SubhasChandra Aggarwal and Anil Bahirwal, the national coordinator of National Election Watch and Association for Democratic Reforms, a good three years to collect incriminating evidence and tenaciously follow it up to prove that all political parties are public authorities. This fact was consistently resisted by spokespersons of the big political parties—Congress, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Samajwadi Party (SP), Bahujan Samaj Party BSP as well as Nationalist Congress Party (NCP). The duo’s commendable efforts finally resulted in the Central Information Commission (CIC)delivering a landmark judgment on 3June 2013.
The CIC ruled that political parties should come under the ambit of RTI, taking into account that the Election Commission (EC) is the public authority, which plays a crucial role in bringing any political party into existence and its control over them, subsequently. It also took into account the fact that political parties are substantially funded by the government, thus making them, public authorities under Section 2 (h) (ii).
A full bench comprising Chief Information Commissioner Satyananda Mishra, Information Commissioners ML Sharma and Annapurna Dixit based their judgment on the following grounds:
A delighted Bairwal stated that, “Political parties have long resisted opening themselves to public scrutiny. People have long been demanding that there should be complete transparency in their financial and internal functioning. Various commissions including the Law Commission, Election Commission and NCRCW have already recommended that political parties should demonstrate transparency through various measures. The CIC should be immensely complimented for passing this landmark judgement to enable the citizens of India so that they can access information about the political parties for which they vote for.”
Subhash Aggarwal states that already politicians have begun sending wrong information that now political parties are only answerable to the CIC and not the public. He states, “Some political parties and their leaders have begun creating confusion that the verdict will make political parties accountable to Central Information Commission in addition to the Election Commission. It should be noted that bringing political parties under the RTI Act will make them accountable to members of public filing RTI petitions with them.”
In the earlier CIC hearings of 26 September 2012 and 1 November 2012, the CICs had commented that, “we hold that INC, BJP, CPI(M), NCP and BSP have been substantially financed by the central government under Section 2 (h) (ii) of the RTI Act. The criticality of the role being played by these politicalparties in our democratic set up and the nature of duties performed by them also point towards their public character, bringing them in the ambit of section 2(h).”
The bench on 3rdJune further stated that, “The presidents, general/secretaries of these political parties are hereby directed to designate CPIOs and the Appellate Authorities at their headquarters in six weeks’ time. The CPIOs so appointed will respond to the RTI applications extracted in this order in four weeks’ time. Besides, the residents/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
How it all started:
29 October 2010: Complainant Anil Bairwal, in his RTI application dated 29 October 2010 had sought the following information from the under mentioned political parties:· INC, AICC, BJP, NCP, CPI(M), CPI, BSP—sources of the 10 maximum voluntary contributions received by your party from financial year 2004-05 to financial year 2009-10; modes of these donations (cheque, cash, DD etc); the amounts of these donations; the financial years in which these contributions were made.
15 November 2010: Moti Lal Vora, treasurer, AICC, had informed the complainant that AICC did not come under the purview of the RTI Act; Chandan Bose, PRO, Nationalist Congress Party, in his letter dated 27 November, 2010, explained to Bairwal why this does not come under the RTI Act. KC Bansal of CPI, in his letter dated 6 November, 2010, had informed the complainant of the sources of ten maximum voluntary contributions received by the party for the financial years 2004-05 to 2009-10. Importantly, other political parties chose not to respond to the RTI application.
16 May 2011: SubhashChandra Aggarwal sought the following information from the presidents/secretaries of the Indian National Congress (INC/AICC) and the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP): Copies of election manifestos of the BJP during its NDA government days; whether all promises made in these election manifestoes were fulfilled; if not to list them; outline of receipts (separately by cash/online/cheque, etc) by the BJP in last two years separately for each year for which updated account information may be there; Outline of payments (separately by cash/online/cheque, etc) made by the BJP in the last three years separately for each year for which updated account information may be there; is it compulsory for every BJP legislature either at Centre or in states or in civic bodies, etc to contribute towards party funds?; If yes, please provide complete and detailed information including also defaulters in making such contributions to party fund in the last three years. Is the BJP aware of any of its legislatures (both at Centre and in the states)/civic body member, etc involved in corrupt and other malpractices in the last three years? If yes, please provide complete details including action taken by party and others against such persons. Has the BJP suggested any proposals to Union government /Election Commissiontowards electoral reforms? If yes, please provide complete details including reply received from concerned ones, if any. Any other related information; file notings on movement of this RTI petition and on all aspects mentioned in this RTI petition.”
20 May 2011: Moti Lal Vora, treasurer, AICC, in his letter dated 20th May, 2011, had informed the complainant that AICC did not come under the purview of the RTI Act. Shri Shanti Prasad Aggarwal, Rashtriya Prabhari of BJP, in his letter dated 28 May2011, had informed the complainant that the BJP was not a public authority and, therefore, the party was not obliged to provide the requisite information.
6 September 2011: Subhash Chandra Aggrawal filed a complaint with the CIC in which he mentioned that the All India Congress Committee and Bhartiya Janata Party, being national parties, had got premium land in Delhi/New Delhi at zonal variant institutional rate which was much less than the prevailing market rate and, therefore, it was not correct on their part to plead that they did not fall under the purview of the RTI Act. It was his contention that both AICC/INC and BJP fell under the ambit of section 2(h) of the RTI Act.
14 March 2011: Anil Bairwal filed a complaint with the CIC against the responses received from INC/AICC, NCP & CPI, contending therein that the political parties, being beneficiaries of the government, fell under the ambit of Section 2(h) of the RTI Act and, therefore, they were mandated to disclose full and complete information to him.
31 July 2012: Chief Information Commissioner in his order dated 31 July, 2012 constituted a full bench comprising Satyananda Mishra, Chief Information Commissioner; Annapurna Dixit, Information Commissioner; and ML Sharma, Information Commissioner
26 September 2012: On behalf of complainant Aggrawal, Prashant Bhushan vehemently contended that the entire political system in India revolved around the political parties. They perform a public function and, therefore, warrant to be declared. The next hearing was on 1 November 2012.
3 June 2013: CIC bench gives order to all political parties to appoint PIOs and AAs in the next six weeks; PIOs to begin functioning within four weeks hence and heads of political parties to ensure that information is suo motu put in public domain under Section 4 of the RTI Act.
Some of the submissions made:
(i) The political parties hold constitutional status and wield constitutional powersunder the Tenth Schedule of the Constitution in as much as they have thepower to -
“a) disqualify legislators from Parliament and State Assemblies;
b) bind legislators in their speeches and voting inside the house;
c) decide what laws are made;
d) decide whether the government remains in power or which governmentshould come to power;
e) decide public policies that affect lives of millions of people.”
(ii) As per Article 102 (2) of the Constitution, a person can be disqualified from being a member of either House of Parliament under the Tenth Schedule and that a similar provision exists for the State Legislators under Article 191(2) of the Constitution. Furthermore, as per Article 102(2), if a member of a House belonging to a political party votes or abstains from voting in the Housecontrary to the directions issued by the political party, he is liable to be disqualified from being a Member of the House.
(iii) The political parties have been given statutory status under Section 29A of theRepresentation of the People Act, 1951.
(iv) Under Section 29A (5) of the Representation of People Act, 1951, politicalparties are required to bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution of India as by law established.
(v) The political parties give tickets to the candidates and the people vote on party symbols and, thus, the political parties are important instrumentalities of democratic governance.
He also submitted proof of information regarding the allotment of accommodation to various political parties on rental basis and the outstanding dues against them, as received by him from the Directorate of Estates vide their letter dated 24 August 2011.
Anil Bairwal filed a detailed representation before this Commission to contend that political parties fall in the ambit of section 2(h) of the RTI Act. In his representation, Bairwal has made the following salient points:
(i) All the political parties have been claiming tax exemption under section 13Aof the Income Tax Act. As per his representation, various political parties claimedIncome Tax exemption (he provided details)
(ii)The State has been indirectly financing various political parties by way of free air time on All India Radio. He submitted the amount spent by the state on the political parties. He also argued that the State has spent huge amounts on the political parties in the matter of free air time on Doordarshan.
(iii)The central government and the state governments have allotted various houses/buildings/other types of accommodation to various political parties either free of cost or at concessional rates. This also amounts to indirect financing of political parties by the respective governments.
(iv) Political parties are continuously engaged in the performance of public duty and it is, therefore, important that they become accountable to the public. Transparency in the working and financial operations of the political parties is essential in the larger public interest.
He vehemently contended that the entire political system in India revolved around the political parties. They perform a public function and, therefore, warrant to be declared “public authority” under Section 2(h) of the RTI Act. In amplification of his above broad submission, he has advanced the following arguments:
(i) Tenth Schedule to the Constitution vests tremendous powers with the politicalparties in as much as they can oust an elected member—whether MP or MLA—fromout of the party if he steps out of the party line. The vast power of the politicalparties has been recognised in this Schedule and, therefore, if purposive interpretationof the Tenth Schedule is made, then the political parties can be deemed to be coveredunder Section 2(h) of the RTI Act.
(ii) As per Section 29C of the Representation of People Act, 1951, all donationsof and above Rs20,000 made to political parties are required to be reported to theIncome Tax Department. This obligation cast on the political parties points towardstheir public character.
(iii) By virtue of powers conferred on it under Article 324 of the Constitution readwith section 29A of the Representation of People Act, 1951, and Rules 5 and 10 ofthe Conduct of Election Rules, 1961, and other powers vested in it, the ElectionCommission of India made and promulgated the Election Symbols (Reservation andAllotment) Order, 1968. Under this order, Election Commission allots symbols tovarious political parties. The Election Commission is an instrumentality of the State.Allotment of election symbols by the Election Commission to various politicalparties is suggestive of the public character of the political parties.
Bhushan contended that political parties have constitutional and statutory status. It is his contention that incorporation of Articles 102(2) and 191(2) through the 42nd Amendment and the 10th Schedule to the Constitution has given constitutional status to the political parties. According to him, it is a fallacy to say that any individual can form a political party. A body or entity does not become a political party in the legal sense until it is registered by the Election Commission of India under section 29A of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, and this registration lends it the colour of public authority.
Lastly, the complainant has also contended that in exercise of its powers, the Election
Commission of India under Elections Symbols (Reservation and Allotment) Order, 1968,promulgated under article 324 of the Constitution and Rules 5 & 10 of the Conduct of Election
Rules, 1961, grants symbols to various political parties for election purposes for the recognitionof political parties and can suspend or withdraw recognition of recognized political parties ontheir failure to observe the Model Code of Conduct or not following the lawful directions andinstructions of the Commission. It is indicative of the public character of the political parties.
(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”.)
While profusely thanking Sonia Gandhi-led NAC, the social activist criticised Manmohan Singh for rejecting minimum wages under MNREGA and his government for failing to pass several money-guzzling schemes that would have put tremendous strain on the fiscal situation. Ms Roy has, of course, always been completely silent about large scale economic mismanagement and corruption that causes inflation and hurts the poorest of the poor
Social activist Aruna Roy, best known as a prominent leader of the Right to Information movement, which led to the enactment of the Right to Information (RTI) Act in 2005, has decided not to continue working as a member of the National Advisory Committee (NAC).
Ms Roy has written to UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi requesting that she should not be considered for another term of NAC and Ms Gandhi has accepted the request. Ms Roy’s term as member of NAC comes to an end on 31st May.
In the letter the social activist, has recorded her ‘deep appreciation’ and ‘gratitude’ for Ms Gandhi and chosen to criticise Prime Minister (PM) Manmohan Singh for slow progress of some of the money-guzzling schemes of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government and also for opposing minimum wages to workers under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act.
Ms Roy had questioned the rejection of recommendation of the NAC by the PM. She said, "I do believe that it is extremely unfortunate the Prime Minister rejected the NAC recommendations on payment of minimum wages to workers under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) and chose instead to appeal the Karnataka High Court judgment ordering the payment of minimum wages to workers under the MGNREGA. More distressing is the Government's refusal to pay minimum wages even after the Supreme Court refused to stay the Karnataka High Court judgment. It is difficult to understand how a country like India can deny the payment of minimum wages and still makes claims of inclusive growth. However, I realise that this effort to persuade the Government to respect the minimum wages law must now continue outside the NAC."
Highlighting the role of NAC, she said the NAC working group on implementation of flagship programmes took up several issues related to implementation of the MGNREGA.
“The recommendations of the working group were sent to the Ministry, which has set up a programme advisory group to oversee implementation of these recommendations and the new guidelines that have been issued by the Rural Development Ministry. Despite its contribution to changing the lives of the rural poor, implementation of this crucial flagship programme remains a challenge,” she said.
She also criticised the UPA government for not getting passed the Food Security Bill, Lok Pal Bill, Grievance Redress Bill, Whistleblower protection Bill.
Here is the letter sent by Ms Roy to Ms Gandhi...
Mrs. Sonia Gandhi
Motilal Nehru Marg,
New Delhi 11th May 2013
Dear Mrs Gandhi,
This is in continuation of the conversation we had some time ago, when I had requested that I not be considered for another term in the NAC. I am grateful for your accepting my request, while assuring your continued support to campaigns for social sector causes being taken up outside the NAC.
While the NAC has dealt with many important issues over the last year, I would like to take this opportunity to record my appreciation for issues taken up by the working group I co-ordinated. These issues have been processed by the NAC and have been sent to Government for necessary action.
The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA): The NAC working group on implementation of flagship programmes took up several issues related to implementation of the MGNREGA. The recommendations of the working group were sent to the Ministry, which has set up a programme advisory group to oversee implementation of these recommendations and the new guidelines that have been issued by the MoRD. Despite its contribution to changing the lives of the rural poor, implementation of this crucial flagship programme remains a challenge. There is a huge group of MGNREGA beneficiaries who are critical, but supportive of the law. They are losing public and political space to a small, vocal, and powerful minority determined to undermine the basic objectives of the MGNREGA. I feel it is time to concentrate on building peoples campaigns for effective mobilisation around the MGNREGA. Hopefully, the measures initiated by the Ministry will provide support to these efforts, and the MGNREGA will come closer to achieving its true potential.
I do believe that it is extremely unfortunate the Prime Minister rejected the NAC recommendations on payment of minimum wages to MGNREGA workers and chose instead to appeal the Karnataka High Court judgment ordering the payment of minimum wages to MGNREGA workers. Even more distressing is the Government’s refusal to pay minimum wages even after the Supreme Court refused to stay the Karnataka High Court judgment. It is difficult to understand how a country like India can deny the payment of minimum wages and still makes claims of inclusive growth. However, I realise that this effort to persuade the Government to respect the minimum wages law must now continue outside the NAC.
Pre Legislative Process: It is a matter of great significance that the NAC has approved a pre legislative consultative process and will send it to Government for necessary action. In my opinion, the NAC is itself a kind of pre legislative body that has benefited immensely from the public consultations it has held. The functioning of the Justice J S Verma Committee, and its celebrated report were also an outcome of a pre legislative consultative process. The NAC recommendations on this issue, are the beginnings of what will hopefully grow into a more robust and detailed process of public consultation. Nevertheless, there can be no doubt that mandatory public consultation and engagement is one of the most important facets of a participatory democracy. Indian Democracy will certainly be strengthened, if the NAC recommendations are acted upon by Government.
The recent record of Parliament on debating policy and legislation underscores the need for this process. Given the hunger and malnutrition scenario in the country, a food security Bill should have been debated and passed by Parliament by now. There has been extensive and healthy debate within the NAC as well as in the public domain on the provisions of the Bill, making it clear that if Parliament were to take it up, it would most likely result in robust and well supported legislation. While questions of poor delivery of social sector programmes continue to plague us, the debates over the past two years have given us a very sound set of measures which should be enacted without delay.
The Working Group on Transparency and Accountability also took up a number of accountability legislations, including the Lok Pal, Grievance Redress Bill, Whistleblower protection Bill etc albeit for a short period of time. Many of those legislations have been through Parliamentary committees and now urgently need to be enacted. The campaign to have these legislations enacted, and peoples monitoring mechanisms such as social audits, must be strengthened. I feel the immediate enactment of these measures is critical to the future of democratic governance in India. The primary need is to act, and I realise once again that the place where I now need to concentrate my energies is outside the NAC.
I would like to place on record my gratitude and appreciation to you, and other members of the NAC for the opportunity I have been given to pursue causes of the poor and marginalised, as well as issues related to transparency, accountability, and democratic governance. I have had in the NAC a very competent and capable set of colleagues who extended the critical, analytical support needed to turn ideas that originate in peoples campaigns and movements, into workable draft policy initiatives.
I would also like to record my deep appreciation of the democratic freedom I enjoyed as a member of the NAC. I can say with absolute certainty, that I have expressed my views fully and openly. It has never been even mildly suggested by you as the Chair, that I curtail my expression either within, or outside the NAC. This has given me the space to finish my term with the NAC, with the confidence that I contributed my best to its functioning; without intellectual compromise, or negatively affecting my role outside.
I look forward to a continued association with you, and all the members of the NAC, and to petitioning the NAC from the outside!
With many thanks
With warm personal regards,
Singh and Li said both countries need to appropriately handle cooperation by maintaining peace and tranquility in the border areas and on the trans-border river issues