Cabinet decides to keep political parties out of RTI

The union cabinet today cleared a proposal to keep political parties out of the ambit of the Tight to Information (RTI) Act, in a development that would obscure the functioning of political parties further.

Political parties, including those in the ruling and the opposition benches have huddled together to block a landmark ruling of the Central Information Commission holding that the parties are public authorities and answerable to citizens under RTI Act.

In its ruling of 3 June 2013, the CIC, a quasi-judicial body, had said the six national parties - Congress, BJP, NCP, CPI-M, CPI and BSP - have been substantially funded indirectly by the central government and they have the character of public authority under the RTI Act as they perform public functions and are therefore answerable to citizens .

According to the order passed by full bench of the CIC, the parties would have to answer citizens queries regarding their source of funding, their expenditure as also the choice of candidates for elections, among others.

The CIC had also directed the parties to appoint Public Information Officers to respond to RTI queries and adhere to all the legal provisions.

According to the CIC, these national parties receive substantial funding from government, they perform public duty by their very nature and are vested with rights and liabilities that are legally enforceable.

According to the commission, political parties pay no income tax, although their incomes would place them in the highest slab of income tax; at least 30 per cent of their total income would have been collected as income tax.

Political parties across the board have opposed the order. They have argued that they are already under scrutiny of the Election Commission and the I-T authorities as both parties and candidates are expected to furnish their sources of funding and details of assets owned to both these authorities.

Activists on the other hand have been pressing government with many of them filing online petitions to President, prime minister and MPs urging them to desist from amending the Act.