The Statesman
New Delhi

Cong, others told to appoint info officers

NEW DELHI, 3 JUNE: Setting a new benchmark in transparency in politics, the Central Information Commission (CIC) today held political parties are answerable under the Right to Information (RTI) Act.

A Full Bench of the Commission comprising Chief Information Commissioner Satyananda Mishra and Information Commissioners M L Sharma and Annapurna Dixit held that six parties ~ Congress, BJP, CPI-M, CPI, NCP and BSP ~ to whom RTI queries were directed, fulfil the criteria of being public authorities under the Right to Information Act.

“The Presidents, General Secretaries of these parties are hereby directed to designate CPIOs and Appellate Authorities at their headquarters in six weeks. The CPIOs so appointed will respond to the RTI applications extracted in this order in four weeks’ time,” the Bench directed.

It also directed the parties to comply with the provisions of mandatory proactive disclosures clauses given under the RTI Act and put those details on their websites.

The case relates to RTI queries from activist Subhash Agrawal and Anil Bairwal of the Association of Democratic Reforms, who had sought information about the voluntary financial contributions received by the six parties and the names and addresses of donors, besides other details; their pleas had been refused by the parties that claimed they did not come under the RTI Act.

During the hearing, Mr Bairwal raised three principal points justifying his arguments that parties were under the RTI Act ~ indirect substantial financing by the Central government, performance of public duty, and Constitutional and legal provisions vesting them with rights and liabilities.

“Large tracts of land in prime areas of Delhi have been placed at the disposal of the political parties in question at exceptionally low rates. Besides, huge government accommodations have been placed at the disposal of political parties at hugely cheap rates,” he noted.

The Bench held the income-tax exemptions granted to the parties and free air time given

by All India Radio and Doordarshan at the time of elections also substantially contribute to indirect financing from the government.

“Political parties are the unique institution of the modern constitutional State...The uniq-ueness lies in the fact that in spite of being non-governmental, they come to wield or directly and indirectly influence exercise of governmental power...It would be odd to argue that transparency is good for all state organs but not so good for political parties, which, in reality, control all the vital organs of the State,” the Bench held.

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