New Delhi

The Centre today told the Supreme Court that political parties could not be brought under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, claiming it would otherwise lead to "malicious" pleas by vested interests and affect their "smooth functioning".

The Centre said even when the RTI Act was passed, it had never been the intent of the government to bring under its ambit parties or their conduct under the transparency law.

"During the process of enactment of the RTI Act, it was never visualised or considered to bring political parties within the ambit of the act. If political parties are held to be public authorities under the RTI Act, it would hamper their smooth working," the Centre said in an affidavit, filed through the department of personnel and training.

"Further, it is apprehended that political rivals might file RTI applications with malicious intentions, adversely affecting their (parties') political functioning," the affidavit said.

According to the Centre, the Central Information Commission (CIC) - the top authority under the RTI Act - had made "a very liberal interpretation of Section 2(h) of the law, leading to an erroneous conclusion that political parties were public authorities under the RTI Act".

"Political parties are not established, or constituted, under the Constitution or by any other law made by Parliament. Political parties are constituted by their registration under the RPA (Representation of People Act), this cannot be construed as akin to establishment or constitution of a body or institution by an appropriate government, as held by the Central Information Commission."

The Narendra Modi government's response followed a notice issued by the Supreme Court in July to six national parties - the BJP, Congress, NCP, CPI, CPM and the BSP, besides the Election Commission and the Centre - on a PIL for complying with an earlier CIC directive that their funding details should be subject to RTI queries.

A bench of Chief Justice H.L. Dattu and Justices Arun Mishra and Amitava Roy had sought the response on a joint PIL by an NGO, the Association for Democratic Reforms, and RTI activist Subhash Chandra Agrawal. The plea claimed none of the parties was willing to comply with the CIC directive.

According to the government's affidavit, there are already provisions in the Representation of People Act, 1951, as well as in the Income Tax Act, 1961, which lead to necessary transparency in parties' financial matters.

It said under Section 29C of the RPA, all parties are required to prepare a report each financial year on contributions in excess of Rs 20,000 from individuals and organisations other than government firms. Section 75A provides for declaration of assets and liabilities by parliamentarians. Under the income-tax act, parties can claim exemption from tax provided they maintain books of accounts and other documents on sources of income.

The PIL, filed through counsel Pranava Sachdeva and Neha Rathi, had said subjecting parties' funds to public scrutiny was a practice common to all major countries of the world, including the UK, US, Australia, Japan, France, Brazil, Bhutan and Nepal.

"In none of these countries is it possible for sources of funds to the tune of crores of rupees to be unknown, but it is so in India," the petition said.

The Association for Democratic Reforms has been at the forefront of the campaign for changes in electoral rules for the past 14 years.

It was on a petition by the association that the apex court had directed that candidates contesting elections must mandatorily declare their criminal records and financial assets.

The association's activities include advocacy for transparent functioning of political parties, conducting an analysis of candidates in every election, and researching the financial records of parties. This extends to examining their income-tax returns.

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