New Delhi

New Delhi, May 19: A non-government organisation and an information activist today filed a joint plea in the Supreme Court for a directive declaring all national and regional parties "public authorities" so that their conduct, particularly sources of funds, could be brought under public scrutiny.

The Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) and right to information (RTI) activist Subhash Chandra Agrawal said once such a directive comes, all parties would be bound to disclose their income and donations to ensure transparency and accountability, vital for a healthy democracy.

The petitioners said they had been compelled to approach the court as six major parties had refused to comply with two orders from the Central Information Commission (CIC), which had declared them public authorities and thus bound by the RTI Act to disclose their sources of funds.

The petition, filed through counsel Prashant Bhushan, relied on the CIC's June 2013 order that declared the Congress, BJP, CPM, CPI, Nationalist Congress Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party "public authorities" under Section 2(h) of the RTI Act.

In March this year, the CIC reiterated its 2013 order after the ADR and Agrawal complained that the parties were not complying with the directive. But the parties still refused to do so.

In their public interest plea, the petitioners - who want the scope of the directive to be expanded to include all national and regional parties - submitted that parties rely heavily on donations to contest elections and manage their daily affairs.

The petitioners said Section 29C of the Representation of People Act, 1951, mandates that parties must submit details of contributions received in excess of Rs 20,000 from any person or a company to the Election Commission.

But no party adequately discloses the details, the petition said, pointing out that the practice of subjecting funds to public scrutiny was common in all major countries. "It is noteworthy that the same is already in practice in various countries such as the United Kingdom, Germany, the United States of America, Australia, Japan and the Philippines.

"Similar practice is also followed in France, Italy, Brazil, Bulgaria, Bhutan and Nepal. In none of these countries it is 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 ADR has been at the forefront of electoral reforms in the country for the past 14 years. It was on the NGO's petition that the apex court had directed that all contestants must declare their financial assets and criminal records, if any.

But "important information about political parties, their income, expenditure, (and) complete details of donors are not disclosed by political parties for public scrutiny", the joint PIL said.

The petitioners contended that the right to information was part of a fundamental right in terms of Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution that guarantees citizens the right to freedom of speech and expression.

They said a voter "speaks out or expresses" himself or herself by casting his or her vote. "To meet this purpose, information about the political parties is a must."

© Association for Democratic Reforms
Privacy And Terms Of Use
Donation Payment Method