The Hindu
Mohammad Ali
New Delhi

Highlighting “direct/indirect ways of government funding”, ADR demands they be brought under RTI purview

The Union Government funds media expenses of political parties from the public exchequer and allots them land worth crores at prime locations in the Capital at nominal rates.

Highlighting these “direct/indirect ways of government funding,” the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) has approached the Central Information Commission (CIC) arguing that political parties be categorised as “public authority” and brought under the purview of the Right to Information Act, 2005.

The case is expected to come up before the CIC on Wednesday.

The ADR, which works for electoral reforms in the country, approached the CIC after political parties, except the Communist Party of India (CPI), refused to answer its RTI query asking details of their donors. In reply to the ADR, they declared that they were not “public authority” and thereby did not come under the purview of the RTI Act.

Documents accessed by the ADR through the RTI show how seven national parties were sponsored airtime on the official media — Doordarshan and All India Radio — to the tune of Rs. 11 crore for their election campaign during the 2009 general election. The Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party, the ruling party and the main Opposition, accounted for the lion’s share of the expenditure at 50 per cent.

The Directorate of Estates of the Union Ministry of Urban Development allots land to national parties for official use, for which they are charged a token amount. In all, the Indian National Congress, the BJP, the CPI, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the Nationalist Congress Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party have been allotted lands at prime locations in Delhi which, even if valued by the circle rate of category “B”, are estimated to be worth Rs.508.37 crore.

The BJP and the Congress share of these land allocations stands at 18,737.42 square metre and 10,410.8 square metre respectively, which are valued at Rs.254.81 crore and Rs. 241.59 crore respectively.

While pitching for the political parties to be brought under the transparency law, Anil Bairwal of ADR argued that “large amount of money is directly and indirectly spent on them on their election campaign, accommodation and by way of tax exemption running into hundreds of crores of total income. After all this, how can they argue that they are not public authority?”

In order to back up his argument, Mr. Bairwal also gave instances of court judgments where the usage of government land at subsidised rates by societies/trusts/schools has been used as a basis to declare them as “public authorities” so as to bring them under the purview of the RTI Act.

“The Punjab and Haryana High Court declared the Sutlej Club as public authority and brought it under the transparency law just because the club was built on a government land. The CIC declared Mount St. Mary’s School in Delhi as public authority primarily because five acre of prime land was given to the school at a subsidised rate.”

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