M A I N   N E W S

Bill moved to keep parties out of RTI ambit
Aditi Tandon/TNS

New Delhi, August 12
The government today introduced in the Lok Sabha a crucial Bill that amends the Right to Information Act to keep political parties out of its purview.

Introduced by V. Narayanasamy, MoS Personnel, the Bill exempts political parties from the definition of “public authority” and hence from law itself. It justifies the exclusion saying, “Declaring a political party as public authority under the RTI Act would hamper its smooth internal working which is not the objective of the said Act and was not envisaged by Parliament under the RTI Act. Further, political rivals may misuse the provisions of the RTI Act thereby adversely affecting the functioning of political parties.”

The RTI Amendment Bill 2013 has been specifically brought to nullify the June 3, 2013 order of the Central Information Commission which had ruled that national political parties (INC, BJP, CPIM, CPI, NCP and BSP) are public authorities under Section 2 (h) of the RTI Act.

The Government, backed by the entire political class, has argued that the CIC made a liberal interpretation of clause defining public authorities.

“The political parties are neither established nor constituted by or under the Constitution or by any other law made by Parliament, Rather they are registered and recognised under the Representation of People Act, 1951 and the rules and orders made or issued under the said law,” the Bill states, adding that enough safeguards existed currently to ensure transparency on the part of political parties.

“The provisions in RPA 1951 and Income Tax Act 1961 deal with transparency in the financial aspects of political parties and their candidates,” the Bill says maintaining silence on all other aspects of information sharing.

Meanwhile, civil rights groups threatened legal action on the issue if the Government pressed with the amendments without inviting public response. The National Campaign for People’s Right to Information led by former National Advisory Council member Aruna Roy said legal options were always open. Nikil Dey from NCPRI told TNS, “We are absolutely disappointed that the political class has moved with impunity to exempt itself from the RTI Act. They could have told us which aspects of their functioning they were willing to share, if not financial. But they have gone ahead with blanket exemption. We want the Bill referred to a standing committee. Finally, the legal option is open.” 

The Bill grants “retrospective” immunity from the RTI Act to political parties and says the amendment would take force from June 3, 2013, the date of CIC order. “The Government has decided to amend the RTI Act to keep the political parties out of the purview of the RTI Act with a view to remove the adverse effects of the said decision of the CIC,” the Bill admits.

It amends Section 2 (h) of the RTI Act which defines a public authority and adds an explanation to this clause stating -- the expression “authority or body of institution of self government established or constituted by any law made by Parliament shall not include any association or body or individuals registered or recognised as a political party under the Representation of People Act, 1951.”

The Amendment Bill inserts a new Section 32 to say that “notwithstanding anything contained in any judgment, decree or order of any court or commission, the Amendment Bill would have effect in respect of political parties registered under the RPA Act, 1951”.

Meanwhile, the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative has urged Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar to prevent the Bill from being passed hastily and refer it to a Standing Committee or Select Committee of the House to facilitate public consultations.





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