Political parties open to RTI scrutiny as CIC deadline ends

Political parties open to RTI scrutiny as CIC deadline ends

Uncertainty prevailed in major political parties including the ruling Congress and opposition BJP over whether to appoint an officer who can share information with public under the RTI Act as the six-week deadline given by CIC to designate such officers ended today.

Reluctant political parties dodged questions from the media on whether they would appoint Public Information Officers and Appellate Authorities.

The murmurs in the corridors of power were that an ordinance may be brought but with the expiry of today's deadline given by the Central Information Commission (CIC), prospects of such a move seemed bleak.

The CIC had in its order on June 3 held that six national parties -- Congress, BJP, NCP, CPI-M, CPI and BSP -- have been substantially funded indirectly by the central government and they have the character of public authority under the RTI Act as they perform public functions.

The transparency watchdog's six-week deadline to these political parties to appoint designate information officers and appellate authorities ended today.

Congress, which is credited for bringing in the flagship RTI Act in 2005, said the CIC order to appoint public information officers was misconceived.

"If you read the RTI Act, if you go back to the debate which led to its conceptualisation, if the intent was to bring political parties under it, that would have been stated...

"And the law doesn't allow you to do something indirectly which cannot be done directly and that's why we have said very respectfully that the CIC's order is misconceived and fails on the fundamental appreciation of the law," Information and Broadcasting Minister Manish Tewari told reporters today.

While BJP said it supports transparency in the political system, it has not appointed any PIO as some of the senior party leaders are opposed to the transgression of RTI Act in the political sphere.

"We believe in transparency in the political system. Any information asked for should be made available. We comply with the Election Commission rules and we always furnish all details about income tax on our website," BJP spokesperson Capt Abhimanyu told PTI.

However, some senior leaders in the BJP feel that if the RTI is allowed then the party may be flooded with frivolous queries as also about the inner functioning of the party which cannot be shared as it is not a public matter.

RTI is more about the decision-making process in the government and about public issues. It is not about inner functioning of the political parties, the BJP leaders argued.

Left parties -- CPI and CPM -- have made it clear that they would be opposing the RTI implementation on political parties with CPM terming it as "fundamental misconception" and CPI making it clear that any help received from the Government was only to ensure better functioning of democracy.

"In no way is it substantial help", CPI said. Other parties -- BSP and NCP -- have also opposed the RTI net over them but maintained their resolve for transparency.

None of the websites of these political parties had a list of designated information and appellate officers, which is mandatory under the RTI Act. Officials in the Department of Personnel and Training, which is the nodal department for the implementation of the RTI Act, said the government has not taken any decision on providing immunity to political parties from providing information.

"If an application is filed under the RTI Act and the party fails to answer within the stipulated 30 days limit, an aggrieved person may approach first appellate authority within the party and then CIC for lodging complaint," a DoPT officer said.
The DoPT was also considering a proposal to amend the RTI Act during the Monsoon Session of Parliament which is scheduled to begin from August 5.

The amendment may give shield to the political parties by including them under Section 2 of the RTI Act to change definition of a public authority or to put them in the list of exempted organisations (as mentioned in Section 8 of the Act), which include central security and intelligence agencies like RAW, IB and CBI, among others.

The Centre's flagship Right to Information Act empowers a citizen to seek time-bound information on all matters of governance by paying a fee of Rs 10.

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