Strengthen RTI

Political parties should be under the purview of RTI.

Two recent developments relating to the Right to Information Act will help to strengthen the law, widen its scope and make sure that it will continue to be useful to the citizens. One is the decision of the Central Information Commission(CIC) that the exemption under the Act given to some agencies and organisations concerned with protecting national security will not apply to information about corruption cases. The other is the decision of the UPA government to drop a few proposed amendments to the law which would have done serious damage to it. These amendments, among other things, sought to deny access to file notings except those related to social and developmental issues. They would have narrowed the purview of the law and made it almost toothless. Many of the scandals which came to public view through the efforts of RTI activists, like those concerning the 2G spectrum allocation and the Commonwealth Games, would not have been revealed in all their ramifications if the law had been constricted.

The CIC’s decision on the working of the Act in relation to the CBI is another positive. The CBI had claimed that it had blanket exemption from disclosure on the ground that it dealt with sensitive cases. But, the CIC has rightly maintained that the exemption does not cover allegations pertaining to corruption and human rights violations and that the agency should disclose such information on a case by case basis. The fact that the CBI deals with high-profile cases makes it all the more important that it discloses relevant information to the public on demand. Hopefully the order should be applicable to other agencies also which have refused to part with information involving public interest, citing the exemption granted to them.  

A proposal that needs to be pursued is to bring political parties under the purview of the RTI Act. Parties are public bodies and their income and expenditure are of public interest. Much of the corruption and the use of black money in the country have their origin in the opaque nature of the working of political parties. It was because of public pressure that the government decided to drop the idea of amending the RTI Act which had become inconvenient for it. The courts and the CIC have also helped to strengthen it and to empower the citizens. It should only be further strengthened and expanded.

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