Political parties asked to designate PIOs and Appellate Authorities within 6 weeks

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:
 

  • Political parties are registered with the Election Commission of India (ECI) under Section 29A of the Representation of People Act, 1951
  • For the purposes of elections, an association/body gets the status of a political party only on its registration with the ECI under Section 29A.
  • Para 16A of the Election Symbols (Reservation & Allotment) Order, 1968, empowers the ECI to suspend or withdraw the recognition of a political party if it refuses to follow the lawful directions and instructions of the Commission or if it refuses to observe the provisions of the Model Code of Conduct.
  • As per the Supreme Court judgment in Common Cause V/s Union of India (AIR 1996 SC-3081), the ECI is empowered under Article 324 of the Constitution to require the political parties to submit details of expenditure incurred by them in connection with elections
  • The ECI has directed the political parties to submit their accounts within 90 days after general elections in case of Lok Sabha and within 75 days in the case of Assembly elections
  • Under Section 29C of the RP Act, a political party is required to report to the ECI in respect of contributions received by it in excess of Rs20,000 from any person or company
  • The contributions made to the political parties are exempt from the Income Tax, both for the donor and the donee.
  • Recognition of political parties is governed by the provisions of Election Symbols (Reservation and Allotment), 1968, which is an order issued by the ECI under Article 324 of the Constitution read with Rules 5 & 10 of the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961, to provide for specification, reservation & allotment of symbols and recognition of political parties and matters related thereto.)

 

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
said clause.”


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:
 

Aggarwal:

 

(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.
 

Bairwal:

 

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.
 

Prashant Bhushan:
 

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”.)

Comments
Dekho ji.com
9 years ago
100% needed. And also that exemption rule of Rs 20000 should be immediately removed. It encourages black money and cash transactions in elections. This whole system of elections and politicians is completely outdated now. Its time for direct democracy and govt work to be done by recruited people, not people's representatives. No need of elections / politicians. Recruit people in Govt jobs and let people decide what policies should be made. There should be no need of elections and politicians. People will manage all the work. Will create employment too. People working for people, thats what democracy should be, not politicians ruling over people and deciding on their behalf. 50% of people's time is wasted on these 2 topics - politics and elections. This 50% time should actually be spent on governance and people making policies and implementing them as well.
Dayananda Kamath k
Replied to Dekho ji.com comment 9 years ago
it is the people who have voted and supported these parties. in democracy you receive a govt you deserve. if you vote a party because they are providing free colour tv, tablets, mobile phone, laptop, rice at rs.1 when actual price is rs.40/ you will get such parties only. they have mismanaged the economy for 60 years and you support them again because they are giving you something free.the money comes from your own taxes or borrowings by the govt.unless you debar parties from declaring freebies in their manifesto countries position will not improve. election commission should debar all political parties which have announced freebies and implemented for 10 years from election immediately. even supreme court should initiate suomoto action as it is nothing but corrupting the voters.
Dr Paresh Vaidya
9 years ago
This is a great opportunity for the political system to get cleaned. But the arguments by Shri Prashant Bhushan are tenuous. Only because a party can remove an MLA from membership or because they can not deal in cash more than RS 20,000 do not make the public body. Allotment of Election symbol by Election commssion also is not a good argument because even a shop is allotted a registration number by the municipal body. Parties are also not constitutional bodies because the Indian constitution does NOT mention any entity like a political party !

This apart, they can decide to cleanse themselves.
JosephMPinto
9 years ago
My dear Vinita,
Please keep following up this story as the political parties will resist this democratic effort to force open their activities through RTI.
Peace and love - Joe.
Dayananda Kamath k
9 years ago
rahul gandhi used to enumerate laws brought in by congress as a show piece to ganer votes and show that congress govt is functiuoning. one main question is why they were forced to bring these special laws. these rights are already enshrine in our constitution and any govt should have ensured these rights without special laws. since they failed they are bringing these laws. even in case of rti. the purpose of the act is that citizens should know what is happening with the govt and how it is working. since govt is not transparent people have to fight to get this right.but it is being followed in letter than spirit.so the main purpose of the law itself is defeated of improving governance.
Shashikant Koppikar
9 years ago
Opposition by the political parties is an indication of how far removed they are from the mood of the nation, how low they are on moral fibre and how right Anna Hazare and Aravind Kejariwal are.
Mrs Kokila Mani
9 years ago
One major party divides people in terms of religion, caste and creed to get votes with all scams etc.

another major party wants to divide states into smaller states to rule the country in the name of efficient administration but God knows how can they manage large country if they come into power

the regional parties what they can do without central support is not explained only to get votes they play with emotions and sentiments of the people

left parties look to communist countries outside. all the leaders are born with silver spoon in the mouth

THERE IS NO IDEOLOGY DIFFERENCES AMONG THEM. ONLY PERSONAL AGENDAS
MOHAN
9 years ago
Should the Public limited companies come under RTI? Can a public limited company disclose all documents/ details to the non- share holding general public?
shivkumar
9 years ago
We need not be too excited as all the political parties are united in defeating the applicability of RTI to them. So there is a long battle ahead for the citizens of India.
Veeresh Malik
9 years ago
The political formations are likely to come together and close ranks in their attempts to escape adhering to the RTI Act. We need to make sure that this does not happen, and one way to do it is to give this decision as much publicity as we can, and spread the word.
MOHAN
Replied to Veeresh Malik comment 9 years ago
RTI cannot be applied in toto with regard to political parties. How can they disclose all documents to general public? But they need to disclose their funding etc.,to the public.

RTI act needs to be fine-tuned.
MOHAN
9 years ago

Can a non- Hindu seek information from Kerala's Devaswom Boards (Hindu Temple boards) to disclose information regarding temple revenue etc.,etc.? (Many non- Hindu worship places are still private bodies and hence do not come under RTI)

I think certain aspects of RTI needs to be revisited.
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