Political parties oppose inclusion under the RTI Act
In a hearing before a full bench of the Central Information Commission (CIC) comprising of the Chief Information Commissioner Satyananda Mishra and Information Commissioners Annapurna Dixit and M.L. Sharma, all the major political parties have opposed their inclusion under the Right to Information Act, 2005. The bench was convened to decide whether the political parties are “public authorities” under the RTI Act and are liable to disclose the details of the donations and contributions received by them. The Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) and RTI activist Subash Chandra Agrawal had filed the appeal to CIC.
The political parties which made their arguments before the CIC included BJP, BSP, CPI-M and NCP. The CPI has already presented their case during the last hearing on September 26 while the Congress was absent. CPI had earlier expressed its willingness to disclose the financial information but claimed that internal discussions should not be made public.
- Public interest is not a criteria to declare a body public authority.
- If the details of the donors and put in public domain, other parties may threaten them and bring down the entire electoral process.
- There was not "direct or indirect funding" by the government and the facilities like free air time, buildings at cheap rents and other facilities do not constitute funding.
- It was practically impossible to give such details as 40 per cent of its funds come from its cadre which is slightly over 10 lakh across the country as annual membership of Rs two while the rest come from 'levy' and donations : CPI(M)
As per section 2 (h) of the RTI Act, even a non-governmental body is covered under the RTI Act if it is substantially financed, directly or indirectly by funds provided by the appropriate government. All such organisations have to appoint a Public Information Officer (PIO) and have to answer public queries raised under the transparency law.
It has been argued on behalf of the petitioner that:
- The political parties avail income tax benefit.
- The land / offices at prime locations are provided at a subsidised cost to the party.
- The maintenance, modernization, renovation and construction of building is done at state expense.
- The electoral process is held by the state using public funds.
- A large sum of money is also spent by the Election Commission of India on political parties for giving Expenses on Electoral rolls.
- Free broadcast facilities is provided to the parties by the Doordarshan and AIR.
According to ADR, the political parties earn huge income and has claimed that between 2004-05 and 2010-11, the income of the parties was as under - Congress (Rs. 2,008 crore), BJP (Rs. 994 crore), BSP (Rs. 484 crore), CPM (Rs. 417 crore) and SP (Rs 279 crore). As per the Election Commission of India, seven national parties, 34 state-level parties and 322 registered unrecognised parties along with 3,831 independent candidates contested 543 seats in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections.