Political Parties to come under the RTI Act
Political parties are an essential institution of democracy because they act as an intermediary between society and state and between the rulers and the ruled. They are continuously engaged in performing public duty and act as a medium through which the interests of the people get represented. Therefore, own duty to the people they represent.
They are the vehicles of democracy as they contest election and form government. They bring people together to achieve their end, develop policies favourable to their interest or the groups that supported them and persuade voters to elect their candidates. They are the main players in the electoral process and a democratic system of governance. Hence, they are expected to share information with the people because the people vote and bring them to power.
In a mature democracy, RTI acts as oxygen, which enables the participation of people. It bridges the gap between the government and the governed and acts as a tool to bring transparency, accountability and good governance. In a democracy, sovereignty lies in the people, and these people must be equipped with information enabling them to participate in the process of government decision making and policy formulation. Democracy is based on a continuous flow of information. Thus, Political Parties must be held accountable to informed citizens. In Ministry of Information & Broadcasting v Cricket Association of Bengal, 1995[i], SC held that one-sided information, half bet information, disinformation and non-information are equally responsible for creating an uninformed citizenry which may make democracy nothing less than mockery.
Because of the Law Commission, the political parties are the lifeblood of our entire constitutional system. The 170th Law Commission Report has also observed in Para 3.1.2; “With a view to introduce and ensure internal democracy in the functioning of political parties, to make their working transparent and open and to ensure that the political parties become effective instruments of achieving the constitutional goals set out in the Preamble and Parts III and IV of the Constitution of India, it is necessary to regulate by law their formation and functioning.” The then 10th CEC, TN Seshan (best known for his electoral reform) also said that political party must have a sense of accountability. Our Constitution also promises free and fair election and thus it is important that the working of political parties should be transparent in such a manner that induces trust in the whole election process.
Different parties adopted different approaches in the selection of candidates for the election. And unfortunately, there is no uniformity in the selection process which results in a staggering number of candidates with questionable antecedents who are made to stand for the election and people have no choice but to vote for them if they are in favour of one particular party. In a democracy, no Nation can afford to have legislators held in contempt, or fear by the people. Thus, in the larger public interest, disclosure of the information of the functioning of political parties becomes imperative.
In U.O.I. v. Association for Democratic Party (ADR), 2002[ii] Supreme Court held that Declaring of criminal antecedents, assets, educational background by the candidates contesting election is required and declaring false information in the affidavit is now an electoral offence punishable with imprisonment up to 6 months or fine or both. Free and fair elections are the very foundation of democratic institutions. Since the election is contested on party lines in our parliamentary democratic polity, the agenda of the political government is set by them. And it is the people who participate in this most imperative role to proceed, perform and present their ultimate choice among the elected representatives. Hence, the people have the full right to know about the functioning of political parties.
POLITICAL CORRUPTION AND THE RTI ACT
Opaqueness in the functioning of the political parties leads to political corruption in form of Crony capitalism, black money, illicit foreign contributions.
How the Electoral Bond was introduced will create a conflict of interest and increase black money and corruption. It will also lead to the creation of shell companies and the rise of Benami transactions to channel undocumented money into the political and electoral process in India. All this leads to a nexus of corruption that threatens the very foundations of democracy and the true letter and spirit of “Democracy” will go astray. Therefore, there is a need for transparency in political financing to guarantee the independence of Political Parties from any kind of undue influence of big donors and to ensure that they compete on an equal footing.
Money power, muscle power, criminalisation of politics and politicization of criminals, misuse of government machinery, and lack of moral values in the political parties are the major threat to democracy. To put check on all the above-mentioned vices, it is necessary to bring Political Parties under the purview of The RTI Act. The preamble of the RTI Act also aims to create an ‘informed’ citizenry, prevent corruption and holding of government and its instrumentalities accountable to the governed.[iii]
Prima facie, it may appear that Political Parties are not public authorities but if we scrutinise their functioning at the root level then we find that political parties are recognised by the Constitution and also by other laws passed by the Parliament. Such as, Political Parties are required to be registered under section 29A of the Representation of the Peoples Act, 1951[iv] and the 10th schedule of the Constitution, Political Parties can recommend disqualification of Members of the House.[v] The functioning of Political Parties either directly or indirectly affect the lives of citizens and hence impinge on citizens lives substantially.
The 2nd Administrative Reform headed by Veerappa Moily under the heading of “Master key to Good Governance” suggested that “In the wake of outsourcing of functions which traditionally were performed by government agencies, it is desirable that institutions that enjoy a natural monopoly, or whose functions impinge on citizens lives substantially, must come under the provision of RTI Act.” So, it is of utmost necessity to hold Political Parties accountable to the public at large and bring them under the purview of the RTI Act.
On 3rd June 2013, the full bench of CIC observed that the Political parties get various concessions from the government, such as Tax exemption against income under Section 13A of the Income Tax Act, land allocation, accommodation, bungalows in the national and State capitals, free air time on Doordarshan & All Indian Radio (AIR) for canvassing in the elections.[vi] And held that the 6 national parties as ‘public authorities’ as they are substantially financed by the government and hence came under the provision of the RTI Act. On 12th August 2013, The Right to Information (Amendment) Bill was introduced in Parliament to keep political parties outside the purview of RTI. But fortunately, it has lapsed after the dissolution of the 15th Lok Sabha. Notwithstanding the binding character of CIC’s order under Section 19(7) of the RTI Act, none of the parties complied with the order.
On 19th May 2015, The Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) and RTI activist Mr Subash Chandra Agrawal have filed a PIL in the Supreme Court to declare all National and Regional Political Parties as ‘Public Authority’ and bring them under the purview of the RTI Act.[vii] The matter is sub-judice and we need to wait for the final verdict of the Supreme Court.
ENDNOTES [i] 1995 AIR 1236 [ii] 2002 AIR 2112 [iii] The Right to Information Act, 2005 [iv] The Representation of the People Act, 1951 [v] The Constitution of India, 1950 [vi] https://adrindia.org [vii] https://adrindia.org/content/judgment-and-petition
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
This blog has been authored by Md. Ali Imran, who is a 4th Year B.A., LL.B. (Hons.) student at Faculty of Law, Jamia Millia Islamia University, New Delhi.
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