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Will the political parties in India enjoy RTI exemption?

Jul 15, 2013

India’s flagship Right to Information Act (RTI) empowers a citizen to seek time-bound information on all matters of governance by paying a fee of Rs 10.

No decision has been taken yet by the Indian government on giving immunity to political parties from providing information under the Right to Information Act as the six-week deadline by the CIC ends on Monday.

Officials in the Department of Personnel and Training, which is the nodal department for the implementation of the RTI Act, said the government was not very keen on bringing an ordinance to keep political parties out of the ambit of the transparency law.

The DoPT, which is under the charge of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, may also go for consultation with other stake holders including civil society before deciding to bring an ordinance, which has been approved by the Law Ministry, to pave way for amendments in the RTI Act, they said.

Meanwhile, amidst reports that the Government has decided to promulgate an ordinance to amend the RTI Act with a purpose to counter the decision of the CIC declaring six political parties as Public authorities, the Alliance Against Conflict of Interest (AACI), said that there is no reason or justification of bringing an ordinance.

“Representatives of any political party, which claims that this is legally unsound, can approach the higher Courts to challenge the said decision. We believe it to be an issue of conflict of interests. The very parties, which are affected by the CIC decision are misusing their legislative power to subvert the law,” AACI said.

AACI questioned as to how an organisation could decide for itself whether it should not be under the RTI Act.

“As we understand, an ordinance should only be promulgated when there is a great urgency at a time when both Houses of Parliament are not in session. No such urgency exists in this case,” AACI cautioned.

The amendments in the RTI Act, if approved by all stake holders, can be brought as early as during the Monsoon Session of Parliament which is likely to begin from mid-August.

The Central Information Commission (CIC) had in its order on 3rd June held that six national parties -- Congress, BJP, NCP, CPI-M, CPI and BSP -- have been substantially funded indirectly by the central government and they have the character of public authority under the RTI Act as they perform public functions.

The transparency watchdog's six-week deadline to these political parties to appoint designate information officers and appellate authorities ends Monday.

The DoPT may propose amendments to Section 2 of the RTI Act to change definition of a public authority to shield political parties.

Another option which may be considered by the government is to include political parties in the list of exempted organisations (as mentioned in Section 8 of the Act), which include central security and intelligence agencies like RAW, IB and CBI, among others.

The DoPT is, however, less inclined to opt for the second option as it might face public opposition, the officials said.

The Centre's flagship Right to Information Act empowers a citizen to seek time-bound information on all matters of governance by paying a fee of Rs 10.

To read AACI's letter to the Indian President, click here.

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