The Morung Express
New Delhi

With Parliament failing to provide a safety net, political parties now have to comply with the Central Information Commission (CIC) order bringing them under the Right To Information law as not doing so exposes them to the risk of legal action, including summons to party presidents.

The commission on July 28 received a complaint of “non-compliance” from activist S C Agrawal who, along with Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), is an applicant in the case. Following the CIC order, political parties were required to appoint public information officers and respond to RTI queries.

As moves to amend the RTI Act to exclude political parties fell through last week due to BJP changing tack, the commission’s June 3 order stands with the six-week compliance period long expired. In the absence of any court granting a stay order, the CIC ruling is in force.

With the RTI amendment before a parliamentary committee, there is little prospect of relief for five parties - Congress, BJP, CPM, NCP and BSP - who are opposing the CIC order till Parliament meets for the winter session in mid-November. CPI, the sixth party covered by the CIC order, has implemented the ruling.

Asked what steps can be taken by the commission to enforce its order, former chief information commissioner and co-author of the order Satyananda Mishra said, “As of now, the CIC order is applicable on all six parties and they are bound to comply.”

Mishra added, “The commission has already received a complaint of non-compliance and can act on it by issuing a show cause notice to parties.’’ He said in the absence of public information officers, the commission, empowered by Section 18 of the RTI Act, could even summon party presidents.

Mishra said there was no precedence to this case as nearly all other institutions declared as public authorities had either complied by the order or obtained a stay from the courts.

Former information commissioner in CIC Shailesh Gandhi said, “In case there is a cause for complaint, the commission has the powers of a civil court and can issue summons or an arrest warrant.’’

The commission had held six national political parties to be public authorities and directed them to appoint public information officers by July 15. Political parties, barring CPI, banded together to oppose the order and agreed to amend the RTI law.

Government sources said the Centre does not envisage any role in the situation that has to be dealt with by political parties. The legislative option is not before a parliamentary committee, no other remedy can be considered.

Section 18 (3) of the RTI Act says that when inquiring into a matter, the commission has the same powers as those vested in a civil court allowing it to summon and enforce attendance of persons.

The commission can ask persons to give oral or written evidence as also to produce documents. It can inspect documents, receive evidence on affidavit, requisition public record from any court or office and issue summons for examination of witnesses or documents.


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