The EC must look into this matter in the interest of free and fair elections and in the national interest.

It is unfortunate that the Election Commission has resorted to a flip flop on the issue of whether political parties come under the purview of the Right to Information (RTI) Act. The commission first said that the RTI Act did not apply to political parties, contradicting a Central Information Commission (CIC) order of June 2013, which brought six national parties within the scope of the transparency law. Immediately after making this controversial statement, the commission corrected itself and said that national parties are public authorities for the purposes of the RTI Act. A facile contradiction within a day of its own statement on such an important issue is not expected from an institution like the EC. The commission’s first order came in response to a petition filed by an activist seeking details of the donations collected by six national parties through electoral bonds. The EC refused to part with the details, just as the parties had refused to do.

It is the CIC that has the authority to decide whether a party is a public authority coming under the RTI Act or not. The EC could not have held a different view on the matter. It showed the lack of a sense of responsibility and seriousness, or a conscious attempt to misrepresent the position or to mislead the public. But, will it now ensure that political parties release the details of their funding, now that it has accepted that national parties are within the purview of the RTI law? We know now, thanks to the NGO Association for Democratic Reforms, that the national parties received a whopping Rs 711 crore from “unknown sources” in 2016-17. The distinction between national parties and regional parties in this matter is also not tenable. It is actually a distinction without a difference because a regional party can, within the span of a few months, become a national party and a national party can be reduced to a regional one. The CIC’s view on this is questionable and, hopefully, the issue will be settled by the Supreme Court, which is seized of the matter.

Electoral bonds have deepened the opaqueness of political funding. The Narendra Modi government introduced them as part of the Union Budget last year. They guarantee complete anonymity to the donor. Moreover, a company can donate any amount to a party as the earlier limit of 7.5% of a company’s profits has now been scrapped. The bonds, which were put on sale by the State Bank of India in March this year, drew a good response. That shows that parties are getting a lot of donations. But they are not willing to disclose the amounts or the sources of funds. The EC must look into this matter in the interest of free and fair elections and in the national interest.

© Association for Democratic Reforms
Privacy And Terms Of Use
Donation Payment Method