Baseless apprehensions among political parties

The democratic set-up is redefined to meet the ends of politicians instead of the people.

Political parties of India have shown unique unanimity in their response to the full bench CIC verdict that they come under the purview of RTI Act.

Political leaders are utterly confused on the issue, frequently changing their stand from welcoming the verdict to the other extreme of terming it an adventurist approach aimed at hitting the democratic set-up of the country.

Politicians are commenting on the decision without knowing the A-B-C of RTI Act, passed by none else but themselves after much deliberation in Parliament. It would be better for politicians to  study the provisions of RTI Act before commenting on the CIC decision. They should read just Section 2(h)(d)(i) of RTI Act which defines a public-authority as “body owned, controlled or substantially financed directly or indirectly by funds provided by the appropriate government.” This would help them judge by themselves if they are covered by RTI Act or not.

Morality demands that political parties criticising the verdict should voluntarily surrender land and bungalows provided by the government to them at highly subsidised rates and lease, besides making a declaration that they will not avail any government facility like AIR and Doordarshan broadcast/telecast time, voter lists, tax-concessions etc in future.

Misconception

Otherwise also, apprehensions expressed by political parties about possible outcome of the verdict are based on misconceptions and their total lack of knowledge about the provisions of RTI Act. Transparency law does not give absolute and blanket power to citizenry to ask any type of question.

There is an important Section - 8(1) with ten sub-clauses - which have exemptions from disclosure of information, which will provide sufficient immunity to political parties to deny information. There is also Section 7(9) which empowers public authorities to decline any such information which may divert resources of public authorities disproportionately.

Political parties can suo motu declare maximum information on their websites under Section 4(1)(b) of RTI Act to avoid large number of RTI petitions coming their way. They can also take pre-emptive action by updating their websites on the basis of information most sought under RTI Act.

It has been argued that political parties will now onwards be accountable to dual institutions -  Election Commission and CIC. This is also a misconception. RTI Act will make political parties accountable to public and not to CIC.

Another point argued by political parties is that they may now have to disclose all deliberations at  their board and other meetings to chalk out their political strategies etc. But RTI Act provides provides for sharing only such information which is materially available on record. Since there seems to be no such practice of recording deliberations made at different levels in political parties in their inner-party meetings, any such apprehension about disclosure of strategic deliberations is just baseless.

No room for ‘Why’

Political parties apprehend they will be asked to reason out decisions such as selection of candidates. This is also baseless apprehension because RTI Act does not provide for reasoning of any decision taken or even queries put forth in the form of ‘why’.

Now, coming to the positive features in the larger interest of the nation and its people, which can be achieved by making political parties accountable to public through RTI Act, petitions can be filed seeking file notings on drafting of poll manifestos which often give away gimmicks and at times unfulfilled promises of political parties at the time of elections. Political parties are reluctant to back long due poll reforms despite Election Commission repeatedly reminding successive Union governments for decades.

Only recently, Chairperson of Minorities Commission (and first Chief Information Commissioner) Wajahat Habibullah forwarded copies of suggestions for ‘Reforming towards a qualitative democracy’, to Presidents of leading national parties. Queries can now be posed to political parties on action taken on such suggestions forwarded to them.

It will reveal their viewpoint on poll reforms where the present democratic set-up in India gets practically redefined as a system for the politicians, by the politicians and of the politicians in place of what was dreamt by our Constitution-makers to be a system for the people, by the people and of the people. If poll reforms repeatedly recommended by Election Commission had been adopted,  perhaps the demand to bring political parties under RTI Act would not have emerged at all.

Some political leaders have passed irresponsible comments that political parties are not retail shops against whom RTI Act may be invoked. Firstly, RTI Act is not applicable to retail shops (private entity).

Besides, it raises a pertinent question if all other public authorities, including the high offices of President, Prime Minister, Rajya Sabha, Lok Sabha, Supreme Court and High Courts, are functioning like retail shops because these institutions are covered under RTI Act? It is unfortunate to encounter such comments against the wonderful Act passed by these politicians in the supreme Parliament of the nation.

The CIC verdict will bring political parties closer to people, besides inducing internal democracy in political parties.

(The writer is an RTI activist.)

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