A PIL has been filed in the Supreme Court urging that political parties registered with the Election Commission be brought under the RTI Act.
BJP leader Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay has petitioned the court that the political parties registered under Section 29A of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 be declared 'public authority' under Section 2(H) of the RTI Act 2005.
He has also prayed that all registered and recognized political parties be directed to appoint Public Information Officer, appellate authority, within four weeks and make disclosures in letter and spirit of the RTI Act and in the event of non-compliance of the provisions of the RPA, RTI Act, Income Tax Act, Model Code of Conduct and other Election Laws and Rules, the political parties shall be de-recognized by the ECI.
Upadhyay moved court when his representation to the ECI for bringing the political parties under the ambit of the RTI Act fell on deaf ears.
"The injury caused is to public at large because corruption, black money and benami transaction badly affects the right to freely and fairly vote, guaranteed under Article 14, 19 and 21," he said.
Listing the privileges that political parties enjoy, the petitioner said, "The Tenth Schedule of Constitution vests great powers with the Political Parties in as much as they can oust even an elected member, whether Member of Parliament or Legislature of State Assembly, from the Party, if he steps out of party line.
"As per Section 29C of the RPA, donations received by Political Parties are required to be reported to the ECI. This obligation cast on the Political Parties also points towards their public character. Therefore, this Hon'ble Court can declare that political parties are a Public Authority' under Section 2(h) of the RTI Act, 2005 by reading Tenth Schedule of the Constitution with Sections 29A, 29B and 29C of the RPA".
Further emphasising the need to bring the parties under the RTI to make public their affairs, the petitioner said, "The Central and State Governments have allotted land/ buildings/other accommodations in prime locations to Political Parties all over the country either, free of cost, or on very concessional rates. This also amounts to indirect financing of Political Parties. Doordarshan allots free airtime to Political Parties during the elections. This is another instance of indirect financing of the Political Parties. As the Political Parties are the life blood of the entire constitutional scheme in a democratic polity and as they are directly and indirectly financed by the Central and State Governments in various ways, they need to be declared "Public Authority" under Section 2(h) of RTI Act."
Upadhyay also contended that Section 80 GGB of the Income Tax Act, which provides that contribution made by an individual or company to a political party is deductible from total income of the assessee, is a provision exclusively applicable to political parties and suggestive of indirect financing to political parties by the state.
He also relied on how the Central Information Commission, various State Information Commissions and the high courts have held that allotment of land/building on subsidized rates and exemption from various taxes including income tax amount to "indirect financing" in terms of Section 2(h)(d)(ii) of the RTI Act 2005.
It is to be noted that the same issue has been before the CIC. In the year 2013, the CIC declared that they come within the RTI Act. Most parties did not comply. Another RTI activist Subhash Agarwal had also petitioned the apex court on the same issue.
Read the Petition Here