Business Standard
New Delhi

There is no doubt that much is wrong with how elections in India are financed. In India, as in most democratic countries, the need for is often what causes cronyism and outright corruption - in fact, more than one politician, cutting across party lines, is on record making this argument. It is necessary, certainly, to introduce greater transparency and even a degree of regulation to the financing of party politics. But that eminently common-sense intuition should not lead to judgments such as that from the Central Information Commission (), which ruled on Monday that  were "public authorities" and thus were subject to the . The CIC argued that since parties had received public benefits - such as land at concessional rates and airtime on television - they should be treated as public authorities. If so, then the  applies to all organisations that have received concessions of one kind or another - in other words, almost every school in India's cities, most private hospitals, and even corporate beneficiaries of public support. It seems clear that the CIC is extending the RTI beyond what Parliament intended the law to be.

But the question is whether there is any need for such an extension of the RTI - since, after all, there are already institutions that could be doing the job. Candidates, for example, are supposed to divulge their income and wealth details to the  of India, or ECI; why not ensure that parties, too, make transparent all sources of funding? Errors or omissions should be penalised by the ECI. For penalties short of deregistration, Parliament can step in - parliamentary committees can be set up to investigate apparent deviations from the truth about political funding; and the data submitted by results, as well as the committee's investigation, should be made public on Parliament's website. Some such investigations will be needed: after all, it beggars belief that only 643 named donors contributed to the Congress between 2009 and 2011. The RTI cannot be seen as a replacement for all other alternative forms of regulation.

Naturally, this transparency should only be limited to questions of financing - an artificial divide as far as the RTI Act is concerned, which is why the Act is not the appropriate instrument. Parties have as much of a right to privacy in their strategic deliberations as does any private sector company. After all, parties are responsible only to their members, not to citizens as a whole - they are literally partisan, not responsible for some all-encompassing public interest. The RTI is meant to investigate those entities, namely organs of the state, that are supposed to act in the overall public interest - and are, therefore, responsible to all. Political parties, simply put, are not responsible to all. And that is why using the RTI to examine parties is not just opening it up to further abuse for political ends, but is also a perversion of the purpose of the law itself. The CIC's judgment

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