New Delhi, June 4 (IANS) The Central Information Commission’s (CIC) order that political parties were public authorities under the RTI Act evoked varied reactions with the government expressing its reservations, the Congress and CPI-M opposing it and the BJP indicating that it was not affected by the move.
Finance Minister P. Chidambaram said after a cabinet meeting that the CIC order was “rather unusual interpretation of the RTI (Right to Information) Act”.
“The reasons given to describe public authority strain credibility. I don’t think intention of the RTI Act was to apply to political parties. Parliament must make law and CIC must implement it,” Chidambaram told reporters.
Chidambaram added that the Congress was not against transparency.
The Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) filed a caveat before the Delhi High Court to preempt unilateral stay on the likely appeal by political parties against the CIC order.
The Congress was vehement in its opposition to the order.
“It is unacceptable. It is against democratic institutions,” Congress spokesperson Shakeel Ahmed told IANS.
Party general secretary Janardhan Dwivedi said that the party disagrees with the order and such “an adventurist approach” will create lot of harm and damage to democratic institutions.
Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) said it cannot accept CIC order that political parties were to be treated as public authorities and brought under the purview of the Right to Information Act.
“This (CIC) decision is based on a fundamental misconception about the role of political parties in a parliamentary democracy,” the CPI-M said in a statement.
It said that bulk of the funding and finances for political parties do not come from the government or any State institution. “In fact, the CPI(M) does not even accept funds from the corporates which is legally permissible,” it said.
The party said that treating a political party as public authority will hamper its functioning.
“A political party is a voluntary association of citizens. That party is accountable to its membership. To apply the Right to Information Act and demand access to the internal deliberations of the party will constitute a serious infringement of the inner-party functioning,” the party said.
BJP spokesperson Capt. Abhimanyu said the party was not against anything that brings in transparency and accountability in political system.
“In public life, the BJP has always favoured transparency. As a responsible party we always have shown respect for institutions like the income tax or the Election Commission. We have always audited our accounts. Any decision on transparency either by Election Commission or the CIC it does not make much difference for us. Any rule or law will be adhered to,” he said.
However, party MP Prakash Javadekar said that the Election Commission should give its opinion on the issue.
Former Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah welcomed the order.
“All the information about the political parties is available to the government, but under different departments. Now, the political parties would be themselves responsible for giving the information to the public,” Habibullah told IANS.
“The fact that political parties have been held to be public authorities is most significant,” said Habibullah, who headed the commission from October 26, 2005 to September 29, 2010.
He said information about land assets of a party can be found from the urban development ministry and information about its income tax payments from the income tax department.
“But now political parties are bound by a suo motu query to give all information about them. It is a most comprehensive, all embracing ruling,” he added.
By filing the caveat, the ADR — one of the two applicants on whose application the Central Information Commission (CIC) gave its order — wants to be heard before an order is passed in the case.
“We have filed a caveat in the Delhi high court so that no party can get stay on the CIC order without we being apprised of,” Anil Bairwal, national coordinator of ADR, told reporters.
Legal practitioners gave varied reactions to the CIC order.
Senior counsel Sanjay Parikh said the move will make working of political parties more transparent.
P.P. Rao, also a senior counsel, said that validity of order had to be seen before talking of its ramifications.
Rao said he had doubts about the validity of CIC order.