Excluding Political Parties from the RTI Act may violate Article 14 of the Constitution
India is poised to enter the ninth year of implementing The Right to Information Act, 2005 (RTI Act) which established a regime of transparency across the country. Not only government departments and other State agencies are covered by this law, but all non-Government organisations financed substantially, either directly or indirectly, by funds provided by the Central or State Government, also become public authorities under the RTI Act, automatically. They too have an obligation to disclose several categories of information proactively under Section 4 of the RTI Act, receive information requests from people directly and make a decision whether or not to disclose the requested information. However, political parties being non-Government organisations have seriously objected to being brought under the regime of transparency after the June 2013 order of the Central Information Commission (CIC) declaring six national political parties as public authorities under the RTI Act.
Political parties have publicly expressed several arguments as to why they do not come within the ambit RTI Act. One of their objections to being covered by the RTI Act is that they are not public authorities like other bodies that are in the government sector. They have said, if they are brought under the RTI Act then all other agencies and organisations that received substantial financing from Government should also be declared public authorities. It is obvious that politicians who have made such demands publicly have been busy protecting the country’s interests (apart for their own) in Parliament and have not paid adequate attention to the developing jurisprudence on this very subject. A compilation of the judgements of High Courts declaring non-Government organisations as public authorities is given below. The purpose of the compilation is to show that many categories of non-Government organisations have been declared to be public authorities under the RTI Act and political parties need not feel discriminated against by the CIC’s order. A summary of these findings is given below while the full compilation is in the attachment.
This compilation is categorised on the basis of the following types of non-Government organisations recognised as public authorities under the RTI Act:
- Societies, Trusts and Charitable Institutions;
- Cooperative Societies, Cooperative Banks and Cooperative Sugar Mills;
- Privatised Organisations and Special Purpose Vehicles (Private Public Partnerships);
- Autonomous Institutions;
- Educational Institutions; and
- Religious Institutions
Summary of Findings:
A quick summary of the findings based on this compilation is given below:
The High Court-wise break up of judgements on this issue is as follows:
(i) Punjab and Haryana – 5 judgements (2 Division Bench orders)
(ii) Kerala – 5 judgements (2 Division Bench orders)
(iii) Allahabad - 5 judgements (2 Division Bench orders)
(iv) Delhi – 5 judgements (1 Division Bench order)
(v) Bombay, Jharkhand, Karnataka – 1 judgement each.
Neither the Supreme Court nor other High Courts have pronounced their views on this issue till date although cases of a similar nature may be pending before them.
Notable private bodies declared public authorities:
- Bangalore International Airport Authority Ltd. (Karnataka HC);
- Delhi Multi Model Transit System Ltd. (Delhi HC)
- Electronics and Computer Software Export Promotion Council (Delhi HC – Single Judge and Division Bench)
- Management bodies of Hindu temples (Madras HC)
- Cricket and Lawn Tennis Associations (Punjab and Haryana HC)
- KRIBHCO, NAFED, NCCF (Delhi High Court)
- Tamil Nadu Road Development Co. Ltd. (Madras HC)
Rationale for holding non-Government bodies as public authorities:
- Investment by a Government in a company (50% or lesser equity participation);
- Public funds or grants-in-aid provided to private bodies;
- Public funds provided for constructing buildings or infrastructure facilities;
- Lease of public land for use at concessional rates of rent;
- Permitting use of public buildings or infrastructure free of charge over long periods; and
- Exemption from payment of taxes.
Excluding Political Parties from the RTI Act may violate Article 14 of the Constitution:
The CIC’s June 2013 order held six political parties to be non-Government organizations that are substantially financed by the Central Government. The RTI (Amendment) Bill, 2013 seeks to exclude not only those six parties but all other political parties registered with the Election Commission from the RTI Act. This amounts to treating political parties as a special category of non-Government organizations that receive substantial financing from the Government and yet will not be covered by the RTI Act. This in our opinion may violate Article 14 which guarantees equality before the law and equal protection of the law for all persons (natural person such as individuals and artificial juridical persons such as non-Government organisations).