New Delhi

Accepting that political parties were in violation of its order, the Central Information Commission however said it was unable to impose any action against them, a move that the petitioners called “an abdication of its responsibilities.” Faced with the only such case of non-compliance in the RTI’s history, the CIC, in an order posted on Monday night, said that further action could be taken by the Union government or by courts.

A full bench of the CIC heard two petitions filed by Right To Information activist Subhash Agarwal and the Association for Democratic Reforms about the non-compliance of six national political parties — the Bharatiya Janata Party, Indian National Congress, Nationalist Congress Party, Bahujan Samaj Party, Communist Party of India and Communist Party of India (Marxist) — with the RTI on January 7 this year.

Eighteen months had passed since the CIC in June 2013 deemed national political parties to be ‘public authorities’ under the Act, to whom the provisions of the Act would now apply. Yet, despite not having challenged the CIC’s order before the Commission itself or before a court or even in Parliament, all six parties had refused to comply with the Act, not replied to the CIC’s notices and never appeared before it.

In its order posted on Monday night, over two months after reserving the order, the CIC concluded that its June 2013 order stands: “the Commission’s order of 03.06.2013 was not challenged in any court. As per the Commission’s order, which is final and binding, the respondent national political parties are public authorities under the RTI Act.”

However, it expressed helplessness at enforcing compliance by the six national political parties which have flouted its order, using the current provisions of the RTI Act: “It is clear that the respondents have not implemented, as public authorities, the directions contained in the Commission’s order. In this light, the provisions for penalty and compensation were examined. It is felt that though the respondents have not taken any step towards compliance, the legal position is such that in this case imposition of penalty and award of compensation cannot be considered.”

The petitioners had sought penalties — including a cessation of public subsidies like land at concessional prices — and compensation, but the CIC’s order finds that the current provisions of the RTI Act do not allow for such penalty and compensation to be awarded. “The Commission is not geared to handling situations such as the present instance where the respondents have disengaged from the process. The Commission, having declared the respondents to be public authorities, is unable to get them to function so. This unusual case of wilful non-compliance highlights the need to identify the legal gaps and lacunae in the implementation mechanism. An obvious conclusion is that in cases such as this, the Commission is bereft of the tools to get its orders complied with,” the order states.

Stating that there are gaps in the law that need to be addressed, the CIC has asked for a copy of its order to be sent to the Department of Personnel and Training “for taking action as deemed appropriate for addressing the legal gaps and issues that have come to light during the hearings.”

It has also said that the petitioners are free to approach courts. “The CIC is not a court, but a quasi-judicial body. It is expected to follow not the letter of the law, but the spirit of the law. Following this, the Act clearly gives it the power to award penalty and compensation,” Jagdeep Chhokar, co-founder of ADR, told The Hindu. “I am sorry to say that it is abdicating its responsbility,” Mr. Chhokar added.

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