It’s a good day with a good moment for the Indian democracy. Politicians are fuming but the common man has a reason to look up. Expect some good outcome of it even though there are clear chances of efforts to sabotage it in the days to come.
Today, the Central Information Commission of India ruled that the political parties come under the ambit of the ‘Right To Information’ Act and they need to furnish information under the provisions of the Act.
Acting on the complaint of the RTI activists Subhash Chandra Aggarwal and Anil Bairwal, the CIC bench headed by the Central Information Commissioner Satyanand Mishra ruled out that political parties are public authorities and cannot shirk away from their responsibility to ensure transparency in the public life.
In fact, the whole decision by the CIC is worth studying. It gives detailed information about how the complainants supported their case by providing additional supporting information that led to this decision today.
They provided details like the list of political parties getting land from the government for their office buildings, rented accommodation to the political parties on government premises, details of the tax- exemption claims by the political parties, state expenditure on political parties by the way of allotting free air time on All India Radio and Doordarshan (the official state media), the valuation of the properties allotted to the political parties by the government and similar other instances of indirect financing of political parties by the state.
The premium real estate allotments to the political parties by the governments (of the political parties) have been made on nominal rates and much below the market rates. Isn’t it extortion? Why the political parties need offices in posh localities of cities?
The complainants successfully protested the contention by the political parties that the political outfits were not public authorities and so didn’t come under the purview of the RTI Act by providing information about the nature of the functioning of the political parties and so the inherent public accountability of the public duty.
The basic question before the CIC in this case, as the report says, was: The question before the Commission is whether INC/AICC, BJP, CPI(M), CPI, NCP and BSP can be held to be Public Authorities under section 2(h) of the RTI Act.
And the Commission after deliberations, sittings and hearings came to the conclusion asserting: In view of the above discussion, we hold that INC, BJP, CPI(M), CPIO, NCP and BSP have been substantially financed by the Central Government under section 2(h)(ii) of the RTI Act. The criticality of the role being played by these Political Parties in our democratic set up and the nature of duties performed by them also point towards their public character, bringing them in the ambit of section 2(h). The constitutional and legal provisions discussed herein above also point towards their character as public authorities. The order of the Single Bench of this Commission in Complaint No. CIC/MISC/2009/0001 and CIC/MISC/2009/0002 is hereby set aside and it is held that AICC/INC, BJP, CPI(M), CPI, NCP and BSP are public authorities under section 2(h) of the RTI Act.
SOME GOOD OBSERVATION POINTS FROM THE REPORT ON THE CIC DECISION IN THE MATTER
It is this link between State power and Political Parties that has assumed critical significance in the context of the Right of Information – an Act which has brought into focus the imperatives of transparency in the functioning of State institutions. It would be facetious to argue that transparency is good for all State organs, but not so good for the Political Parties which control the most important of those organs.
The RTI Act emphasizes that “democracy requires an informed citizenry” and that transparency of information is vital to flawless functioning of constitutional democracy. It is nobody’s case that while all organs of the State must exhibit maximum transparency, no such obligation attaches to Political Parties. Given that Political Parties influence the exercise of political power, transparency in their organization, functions and, more particularly, their means of funding is a democratic imperative, and, therefore, is in public interest”.
After various RTI applications filed to the central agencies, it was discovered that Political Parties enjoy a number of “facilities” provided to them by the government. This is a clear instance of being “financed indirectly by funds provided by the appropriate government” which puts Political Parties squarely under the definition of ‘public authority’ as provided for in section 2(h)(d)(ii) of the RTI Act.
In addition to the 100% exemption on income under section 13A of the Income Tax Act, all the major Political Parties have been provided “facilities” for residential and official use by Directorate of Estates (DOE), Government of India, in New Delhi. They have been given offices and residential accommodations at prime locations in New Delhi (Lutyen’s Delhi) such as Akbar Road, Raisina Road, Chanakyapuri. The rentals charged are a fraction of the market rent. These facilities are not just provided to them at nominal rates but their maintenance, upgradation, modernization, renovation, etc. are also done at State expense.
Equally, that the institution or organization is not controlled, and is autonomous is irrelevant; indeed, the concept of nongovernment organization means that it is independent of any manner of government control in its establishment, or management. That the 47organization does not perform – or pre-dominantly performs – “public” duties, too, may not be material, as long as the object for funding is achieving a felt need of a section of the public, or to secure larger societal goals.
“To maintain the purity of elections and in particular to bring transparency in the process of election, the Commission can ask the candidates about the expenditure incurred by the Political Parties and this transparency in the process of election would include transparency of a candidate who seeks election or re-election. In a democracy, the electoral process has a strategic role. The little man of this country would have basis elementary right to know full particulars of a candidate who is to represent him in Parliament where laws to bind his liberty and property may be enacted.”
Yes, indeed, the little man of this country, who elects and make governments, is the most neglected of all the stakeholders who form this largest democracy on the globe, a democracy that is saddening by its pseudo-democratic functioning.
Political parties are finding it hard to accept the decision. Politicians are reacting. They would explore all the possibilities to challenge it including going to the courts. Let’s see what comes next.
There may be technicalities of the decision on which political party would come under the purview of the Act but this is a moment to think positively because this is a landmark ruling. Its sustainability lies in the future but at the moment, it has rightly slapped in the face of the hypocrisy of the political parties across the party-line (the respondents included six major political parties). This only reason is good enough to rejoice and look ahead to take the fight further for a democratic India away from the clutches of the elements killing the spirit of the country being a people’s Republic.
The whole decision makes for an interesting reading and can be accessed here:
©/IPR: Santosh Chaubey – https://santoshchaubey.wordpress.com/