Supreme Court to hear the PIL regarding bring political parties under RTI Act
The political parties are an integral part of parliamentary democracy as they are the ones which either run a government or keep a check on the government in the form of opposition. In the 170th report, the Law Commission had recommended transparency in the functioning of political parties with a special emphasis on the internal party democracy, transparency in financial matters and accountability in their working. It is almost 2 years since the June 3, 2013 order of the Central Information Commission (CIC) which ruled that the six national political parties (Congress, Bharatiya Janata Party, Communist Party of India-Marxist, Communist Party of India, Nationalist Congress Party and Bahujan Samaj Party) are covered under the definition of the public authorities under the Section 2(h) “public authority” means any authority or body or institution of self-government established or constituted (a) by or under the Constitution; (b) by any other law made by Parliament; (c) by any other law made by State Legislature; (d) by notification issued or order made by the appropriate Government, and includes any- (i) body owned, controlled or substantially financed; (ii) non-Government organization substantially financed, directly or indirectly by funds provided by the appropriate Government; of the Right to Information (RTI) Act and obliged to disclose information to RTI applicants. Since then, little work seems to have been done in the field to implement the order even though the same has not been challenged. The CIC reiterated its 2013 order in March 2015 after on a complaint that the political parties were not complying with the directive
The Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) along with RTI activist Subhash Chandra Agrawal have now approached the Supreme Court through a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) seeking directions to declare that all the national and regional political parties are public authorities under the RTI Act, 2005. The petitioners said they had been compelled to approach the court as the political parties had refused to comply with the orders of the CIC. The PIL has sought disclosure of:
· the complete details of income and expenditure of the national political outfits,
· the complete details of income and expenditure of the regional parties,
· entire details of donations and funding received by the political parties, irrespective of the amount donated and names of donors making donations to them and to electoral trusts.
The petitioners referred to Section 29 C of the Representation of People Act, 1951, which mandates that parties must submit details of contributions received in excess of Rs 20,000 from anyone to the Election Commission. The petition further points out the practice of subjecting funds to public scrutiny is common in all major democracies such as the United Kingdom, Germany, the United States of America, Australia, Japan, France, Italy, Brazil, Bulgaria, Bhutan and Nepal.
The petition claims that:-
· The political parties receive large amount of money in the form of donations and contributions from corporates, trusts and individuals but they do not disclose the source of such donations.
· The political parties a significant control over their elected MPs and MLAs under Schedule 10 of the Constitution. (Schedule 10 makes it compulsory for MPs or MLAs to abide by the directions of their parties, failing which they stand to be disqualified)
· The right to information was part of a fundamental right in terms of Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution that guarantees citizens the right to freedom of speech and expression. A voter speaks out or expresses himself by casting his vote and to meet this purpose, information about the political parties is a must.
Will the PIL lead to a clear outcome and if so, what would be the time frame in which the verdict would come? The nation eagerly waits for the order.