The Central government today told the Supreme Court through an affidavit that it is firmly against declaring political parties as public authorities and bringing them under the ambit of the Right to Information (RTI) Act.
Kindling hopes of bringing transparency in the functioning of major political parties, the Supreme Court had on July 8 acting on a public interest litigation filed by NGO Association for Democratic Reforms represented by lawyer Prashant Bhushan asked six national parties, including BJP and Congress, why they cannot brought under the ambit of RTI.
A bench headed by Chief Justice of India HL Dattu also sought the political parties' views on making it mandatory for them to declare all donations, which also include those below Rs 20,000.
Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), Communist Party of India (CPI), Communist Party of India (Marxist) and Bahujan Samaj Party are the other parties whose responses have been sought by the apex court. The bench had then also issued notices to the Election Commission of India and the Centre seeking its reply. The Modi government’s affidavit was in response to it.
Bhushan had told the bench he was forced to approach the apex court because the political parties were not complying with the June 2013 order of the Central Information Commission (CIC) that had declared the "parties public authorities under section 2 (h) of the RTI Act, after they which they had to furnish whatever information sought by the public".
Ratan Lal, a senior official with the Department of Personnel and Training said in the response affidavit: "CIC has made a very liberal interpretation of Section 2(h) of the RTI Act, leading to an erroneous conclusion that political parties are public authorities under RTI Act".
“Political parties are not established or constituted by or under the Constitution or by or other law made by the parliament. Political Parties are constituted by their registration under the Representation of Peoples Act and this cannot be construed akin to the establishment or constitution of a body or institution by an appropriate government as held by the CIC.”, it said.
“If political parties are held to be public authorities it would hamper the smooth internal working. It is apprehended that political rivals might file RTI applications with malicious intention to the CPIO of Political parties thereby adversely affecting their political functioning”, said the affidavit.
“Election commission on its own places information provided by political parties under section 29 C of Representation of Peoples Act in public domain through its website. This on its own will ensure transparency in respect of functional aspects of a political party”, said center’s affidavit.
Seeking immediate contempt action against the parties, Bhushan had told the apex court that CIC could not even act against the parties, which did not even send their representatives before it as the commission did not have the power to issue contempt action. After listening to Bhushan, CJI Dattu had said, "Oh! they do not have contempt powers? Not even inherent contempt powers? Then we are issuing notice."
Bhushan claimed that the political parties received huge sums of money in form of donations and contributions from corporates, trusts and individuals, but do not disclose complete information about the source of such donations.
Bhushan also claimed that political parties enjoyed a stronghold over their elected MPs and MLAs under Schedule 10 of the Constitution, which makes it compulsory for members of either Houses of Parliament or state legislatures to abide by the directions of their parties, failing which they stand to be disqualified.
The petition also seeks complete financial transparency of political parties. The petition said the election commission should be asked to collect all finances of political parties and put the same on the public domain.
"All parties should also be mandatorily asked to disclose complete details about their income as well as expenditure, entire details of donations and funding received by them, irrespective of the amount donated, and full details of donors making donations to them and to electoral trusts," the PIL said.
Read the Centre's Affidavit here.