Comments of the political parties regarding the CIC order declaring them as public authority
The landmark order by the full bench of the Central Information Commission (CIC) bringing political parties under the ambit of the Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2005 has evoked sharp reactions from the public and the leaders. Virtually the entire political class appears to be united in opposing the CIC order.
- The AICC General Secretary Janardan Dwivedi said that getting political parties entangled in such unnecessary things will damage the demcratic process and is not acceptable. Such adventurist approach will create lot of harm and damage to democratic institutions.
- After a cabinet meeting, the Finance Minister P. Chidambaram said that the CIC order was a rather unusual interpretation of the Right to Information (RTI) Act. He said that the reasons given to describe public authority strain credibility. “I don't think intention of the RTI Act was to apply to political parties” he said. He added that the Congress was not against transparency.
- When asked whether Congress would appeal to the CIC for a review of the order or would take any other step the Congress party spokesman Sandeep Dikshit told reporters that the decision will be taken by the party high command. He contented that the CIC's order was not fundamentally correct as political parties go to the people every five years and are also accountable to the Election Commission
- BJP spokesperson Captain Abhimanyu said the party was not against anything that brings in transparency and accountability in political system. He told that as a responsible party, the BJP has always have shown respect for institutions like the Income Tax or the Election Commission and have always audited our accounts. Any decision on transparency either by Election Commission or the CIC, it does not make much difference for the BJP. Any rule or law will be adhered to.
- The BJP MP Prakash Javadekar called upon the Election Commission to give its opinion on the issue.
- Senior leader Arun Jaitley said that the CIC ruling bringing political parties within the ambit of the RTI Act was per se not wrong as long as it applied to their funding. He added that the CIC logic behind applying RTI Act to political parties is that they are given land at concessional rates. He raised a querry that since many organizations, NGOs, media houses have been given land at concessional rates, should it not apply across the board to all such private bodies?
- The BJP state chief Devendra Fadnavis said that BJP is not opposed to transparency but these rules will have to be fine-tuned. The new state treasurer of BJP, Shaina NC, avoided a direct response to the CIC order. She said that the RTI is a good law but it is also misused to blackmail people and settle scores.
- The CPI-M said the CIC order is based on a fundamental misconception about the role of political parties in a parliamentary democracy. It will interfere with and hamper the functioning of a political party. The CPM was also of the view that opponents of a political party could utilise the RTI as an instrument to destabilise a party. The CPM asked the government to discuss the matter with all the political parties so that suitable steps can be taken to preserve the integrity and role of the political parties in a democratic system. The CPI(M) said it cannot accept the CIC order that political parties are to be treated as public authorities and brought under the purview of the Right to Information Act.
- CPM general secretary Prakash Karat has said that there seems to be a consensus among national parties against the CIC ruling and his party would request the government to amend the RTI Act so that political parties are exempt from sharing information like public authorities. He ruled out CPM going to courts against the order of the CIC. The CPM is likely to seek views of other political parties before the monsoon session of Parliament and push for a unanimous amendment.
- The JD(U) chief Sharad Yadav said the order was not justified as political parties are not shops. The NCP too, has opposed the move.
- Former Advocate-General N R Chandran opined that bringing the political parties under the RTI ambit is wrong as the interpretation by the CIC is artificial expansion of the scope of the provisions of the Act. The validity of the order has to be tested only in the Supreme Court.
Those who are in favour of the CIC order
- The exception amidst politicians, the West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has supported the CIC decision saying that the citizens have the right to know how political parties function and get funds.
- Goa Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar welcomed the CIC ruling that political parties come under the ambit of the Right to Information (RTI) Act calling it a good thing.
- The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) said that the absence of transparency in the funding sources of the political parties has led to criminalisation and involvement of black money in politics. The CIC order also received a warm welcome from the Welfare Party of India.
- Welcoming the order the former Chief Information Commissioner at CIC Wajahat Habibullah said that the political parties would be themselves responsible for giving the information to the public.
- Former Madras High Court judge K Chandru welcomed the CIC decision and said that itwill go a long way in having transparency in their activities.
- Baba Ramdev supported the move to bring political parties under the ambit of RTI Act.
- CPI-ML, a party which has largely remained underground, has welcomed the move.
- Ms Aruna Roy praised the CIC order.
The next few days would be carefully watched by all those concerned with transparency – the CIC order is not likely to be accepted by the political parties. Will they go for a petition to the High Court or would it the path of seeking an amendment in the RTI Act?