CIC verdict can’t be used to seek SC order for bringing political parties under RTI: Centre

'Political parties do have a point; RTI may be used for seeking information on parties' internal decisions,' the SC observed.
Last Updated : 25 July 2023, 15:40 IST

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The Union government on Tuesday contended before the Supreme Court that the Central Information Commission's order cannot be used to seek a direction from the court to bring recognised political parties under the ambit of the Right to Information (RTI) Act.

The top court was hearing a clutch of petitions seeking a declaration that national and regional political parties were “public authorities” under the RTI Act. Several parties, including the BJP and the Congress, have been made respondents in the matter.

Advocate Prashant Bhushan, representing NGO Association for Democratic Reforms, submitted that in 2013, the CIC had passed an order that political parties, which receive benefits like tax exemptions and land from the government, should be brought under the RTI for ensuring transparency in the political system.

Appearing for the Centre, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta submitted before a bench of Chief Justice of India D Y Chandrachud and Justices J B Pardiwala and Manoj Misra that the CIC order cannot become the basis for bringing recognised political parties under the ambit of the RTI Act.

“The CIC's order cannot be used to seek a writ of mandamus…… to bring political parties under the RTI,” he said.

The top court also orally said that political parties may “have a point” when they fear that accountability under the RTI Act may even seek disclosure of their internal decisions, which may include choosing a particular candidate.

Advocate P V Dinesh, representing Communist Party of India (Marxist), contended that his client did not object to a financial transparency requirement, but that there cannot be requests on why a particular candidate has been selected or what the internal decision-making process is. Bhushan replied that no such details are being sought.

The bench then said, “They have a point. They say, don’t ask us to disclose how we chose our candidates… I don’t think you can do that”.

Mehta contended that basically, they want to know how parties function.

Senior advocate Gopal Sankaranarayanan, appearing for petitioner Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay, submitted that in the past the top court had passed multiple orders, directing political parties to publish the criminal antecedents of their candidates and that this has not been done.

Bhushan, for his part, said that the government granted considerable benefits to the political parties, which included bungalows; and further that they played a role in governance by controlling legislators’ opinion through whips.

The bench put the matter for hearing on August 1, after noting that the Attorney General was unavailable.

Earlier, the Centre had told the apex court that political parties cannot disclose their internal functioning and financial information under RTI Act, as it will hamper their smooth functioning and become a weak spot for rivals with malicious intentions to take advantage of.

Published 25 July 2023, 10:45 IST

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