The Times of India
New Delhi

NEW DELHI: With five days left for the Central Information Commission (CIC) imposed deadline for political parties to appoint public information officers required under the RTI Act, government and civil society are heading towards an ugly face-off. None of the political parties have appointed PIOs so far, indicating their intent to brazen it out.

The CIC had on June 3 given six national political parties six weeks to make these appointments and the deadline expires on July 15. In the meantime, the government has readied an ordinance to exclude parties from the ambit of the law, much to the chagrin of RTI activists who have termed the move as going against the fundamental rights of citizens.

Since the order was issued, political parties have argued that they are financially accountable to the Election Commission and do not require the scrutiny of the RTI Act. Incidentally, Transparency International's annual 'Global Corruption Barometer 2013', which surveyed 114,270 people in 107 countries, found that globally, people felt that political parties were the most corrupt institutions. About 68% of Indians surveyed said they did not believe the government was doing enough to fight the problem and that corruption had increased in the last two years.

RTI activists have charged political parties with being double-faced and have started campaigns petitioning the President to resist signing an ordinance. In his petition, former information commissioner Shailesh Gandhi said, "Curtailing citizen's fundamental right and issuing an ordinance to frustrate a statutory order are morally and legally repugnant. Frustrating an existing law arbitrarily will not promote the rule of law. I plead with you to consider whether it would be right to curb citizen's fundamental rights by ordinance when there appears to be no need for immediate action.''

Association for Democratic Reforms' Prof Jagdeep Chhokar argued against the necessity of hastening the process through an ordinance. In an elaborate letter to the President, he has reasoned that political parties are protected under Section 7 of the Act from divulging information that may damage their interests. "Every public authority has a right not to divulge any information where the damage of the disclosure to the private interest of the public authority outweighs the benefit to public interest expected to result by the disclosure,'' he said.

The National Campaign for People's Right to Information supported by Aruna Roy, Anjali Bharadwaj, Shekhar Singh too has dashed off a memorandum to President Pranab Mukherjee.

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