The Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) and RTI activists have filed a PIL in SC regarding non-compliance of political parties to come under RTI Act as per a ruling by CIC.

What is the concern of the activists?

The activists claim that to meet their election and other expenditures, the political parties get huge donations, especially from corporates. This has wider ramifications:
  • The corporates can in turn influence the govt policies to benefit them, leading to widespread ‘crony capitalism’.
  • It’s estimated that 35% of donations received is black money.
  • FCRA prohibits foreign contributions to political parties but it has been reported that some political parties are receiving illegal foreign contributions.
  • All this leads to a nexus of corruption which threatens the very foundations of democracy
So, there is a need for transparency in the funding of political parties and accordingly, they should be brought under the RTI Act. In pursuant of this view, in 2010, the ADR filed an RTI request seeking information on donations and contributions received by various political parties. However, the political parties didn’t respond positively to the request stating that they don’t fall under the purview of the RTI Act.

The stand of political parties

  • According to the RTI Act, all public authorities have to furnish the information sought. The political parties claim that they are neither a constitutional body nor a statutory body nor a body substantially funded by the govt and have also not been specified as public authorities in the RTI Act. Hence, they are not public authorities and also they don’t come under the purview of the RTI Act.
  • They also claim that RTI can be misused to disclose information on its internal functioning.
  • Besides, they disclose information on their finances to income department under the IT Act anyways.

So what have been the developments related to this issue since 2010?

  • In 2013, the CIC declared the national parties as public authorities and hence they came under the purview of the RTI Act.
  • In an order given by the Election Commission in May 2018, it was held that the political parties are out of the preview of the RTI Act. However, it later clarified that the national political parties are public authorities under the RTI Act as declared by CIC.
  • In pursuance of this, the CIC stated that all information about contributions received by these parties as well as their annual audited accounts as and when submitted to the EC shall be put in the public domain.
  • However, almost all political parties have failed to comply with the RTI Act until now.
  • Accordingly, a PIL has been filed in the SC.

Arguments in favour of bringing political parties under RTI Act

The petitioners believe that national political parties are the main players in the electoral process and in a democratic system of governance, it is essential that they are held accountable by informed citizens. Prima facie, it may appear that they are not public authorities but if we scrutinise their functioning at a micro level, then we find that political parties are recognised by the Constitution and other laws passed by the Parliament as can be seen from the following examples:
  • 10th Schedule of Constitution provides for anti-defection law and it empowers political parties to issue whips which effectively bind its members to vote as per the party lines.
  • The leader of the opposition is statutorily mandated to be part of select committees to choose Chairperson for CIC, Lokpal, CBI Director and CVC.
  • Various members of the opposition are also part of various parliamentary committees
  • They enjoy multiple benefits like concessional office spaces, free airtime on DD & AIR from govt
So, the reasoning given by political parties is largely flawed and they should be brought under the RTI Act to reduce trust deficit and increase confidence in their functioning. The matter, however, is currently sub-judice and we need to wait for the final verdict of SC in this matter.   Read Also: –A Relief for Housing Projects in 34th GST Council Meeting Read Also:-All You Need To Know About Indian Space Program