Association for Democratic Reforms and the Right to Information activist Subhash Agrawal have moved to Supreme Court asking for national and regional parties to be brought under the ambit of RTI act.
The plea, filed through the SC lawyer Prashant Bhushan, also urged the court to direct all such parties to disclose details regarding their income and expenditure.
Prof. Jagdeep Chhokar of ADR said, “This petition has been necessitated by the arrogant defiance of the lawful decision of the Central Information Commission by six national political parties. The decision of the Supreme Court will determine whether the law of the land applies to political parties or are political parties above the law. We certainly hope the Supreme Court will uphold the law,”
On June 3, 2013, the Central Information Commission had declared six national political parties, the INC, BJP, CPI(M), CPI, NCP and BSP to be “public authorities” under Section 2(h) of the RTI Act.
The CIC in its order had directed these political parties to designate “CPIOs and the Appellate Authorities at their headquarters within six weeks time.”
It further said, “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 political parties in question failed to comply with the Commission’s order even 22 months after the original order. This prompted the CIC to issue another reminder on March 16, 2015 stating that its original order was ‘legally correct’ and ‘final.’ The CIC, however, lamented that the current RTI act didn’t give the commission enough power to take stringent actions for contempt or non-compliance of its order.
According to some reports, there are over 37,000 RTI queries pending with the CIC, which has been functioning without a Chief Information Commissioner for nine months now. Delhi high court in April had asked the Centre to expedite the process of appointment of the CIC chief at the earliest.
On May 11, the central government informed the Delhi HC that the process of appointing the CIC head and other information commissioners was “at an advanced stage.”
Grounds complainants have used to file this petition:
- Under 10th Schedule of the Constitution, political parties enjoy a stronghold over their elected MPs/MLAs and this power is not only confined to the manner of voting but it also extends to their conduct.
- Under Section 29A of the Representation of People Act, 1951 all political parties specifically affirm to bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution and such allegiance is made compulsory for the purpose of registration.
- Political Parties enjoy a total tax exemption under Section 13A of the Income Tax Act.
- Political parties receive huge sums of money in the form of donations and contributions from corporate, trusts and individuals.
- Political parties also adopt the coupon system for the purposes of collecting funds and majority of the cash donations received by them remain unaccounted.
- Information about political parties, their income, expenditure and details of donors is not disclosed by political parties for public scrutiny.
- Law Commission of India had in its 170th Report on ‘Reform of the Electoral Laws’ dated May 29, 1999 as well as in its 255th Report on ‘Electoral Reforms’ dated March 12, 2015 recommended for transparency and accountability in the functioning of political parties.
- Election Commission of India had also in its report on ‘Proposed Electoral Reforms’ (2004) made recommendations for compulsory maintenance and auditing of accounts of political parties.