Business Standard
New Delhi

A day after the Central Information Commission (CIC), in a landmark order, ruled political parties were 'public authorities' and, therefore, should be brought under the ambit of the Right To Information(RTI) Act, political parties across the spectrum objected to this approach.

The Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) which, along with RTI activist Subhash C Aggarwal had filed the RTIs, today responded to the "fear psychosis" being created by political parties, saying this would "destroy the entire political system".

"The parties not interested in transparency and moving court against it would be exposed before the public," they said. ADR has moved a caveat before the Delhi High Court in case the order is challenged in court.

Finance minister P Chidambaram said, "The reasons given to describe political parties as public authorities under the RTI Act do not appear to be credible. When the RTI Act was enacted, it was not supposed to apply on political parties. Congress is not against transparency."

The case, the outcome of a stiff battle with the six national parties---the Congress, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), the Nationalist Congress Party, the Communist Party of India, and the Communist Party of India (Marxist)---for three years, saw parties refusing to disclose information, saying they were "not under the RTI". It was only after establishing through RTI queries that parties were substantially funded by the government that the RTI activists approached the CIC, as they had been denied information. The CIC ruled parties were designated as "public authorities" and they would have to disclose information when sought by the public. (OUT OF BOUNDS? NO MORE)

RTI queries to the Director of Estates in New Delhi to probe the allotment of bungalows in Lutyens Delhi used as party offices revealed "indirect financing"---prime property had been rented to parties at throwaway prices. While the market value of these plots was Rs 2677.78 crore, the rents for party offices for five years amounted to only Rs 66.53 crore. During elections, political parties are beneficiaries of free air time on national broadcaster Doordarshan and All India Radio; such services to "all political parties" during the Lok Sabha polls in 2009 had cost the government Rs 24.28 crore. The government had also spent Rs 9.15 crore on providing free electoral rolls to these six national parties during the 2009 general elections.

ADR rejected the political parties' argument that if these parties were brought under the RTI, it would "damage democratic institutions". It said the "move was aimed at strengthening the political system and inner functioning of political parties". ADR's Anil Bairwal said, "Parties are not above the law."

Information gleaned from income tax returns filed by parties revealed the share of donations to the BJP's income was the highest (81 per cent), while the Congress earned only 14 per cent through donations. For the Congress, the largest source of its income was the "sale of coupons" (Rs 57,347.18 lakh).

ADR's Jagdeep Chhokar said political parties also availed of 100 per cent IT exemption. "Currently, there are 1,300-1,400 parties, and more than half of these don't fight elections," he said, adding they were registered as parties to avail of donations, which were exempt from IT; various companies also benefited through this. The BSP has stated it has "not received any donation above Rs 20,000 (above which disclosure is mandatory)". In 2010-11, the Samajwadi Party declared only six donors.

Rejecting the "misleading claims" by political parties, ADR's Anil Bairwal said, "Political parties should, instead, concentrate on making public as much information as possible on their websites; then, they wouldn't have to be deluged under a huge pile of RTI queries."

Meanwhile, the government has said it is "examining" the CIC order and would take into account the concern expressed by political parties. ADR activists claimed while several attempts towards electoral reforms had failed, the CIC order had injected transparency into the political system.


"It is not acceptable. We totally disagree with it. Such an adventurist approach will create a lot of harm and damage to democratic institutions. Getting political parties entangled in such unnecessary things will damage the democratic process. We simply cannot accept it."

Janardan Dwivedi, Congress General Secretary

"To apply the RTI Act and demand access to the internal deliberations of the party whether it be on policy matters, organisational decisions or selection of candidates will constitute a serious infringement on the inner-party functioning, confidentiality of discussions and undermine the political party system itself.

CPI(M) politburo statement

"BJP is not against anything that brings transparency and accountability which is equally applicable to all. We will follow the law."

Capt. Abhimanyu, BJP spokesperson

"Its in no way justified as political parties are not shops. We are totally against this move and demand that the central government come forward to scuttle the CIC move."

Sharad Yadav, JD(U) President
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