Afroz Alam Sahil for BeyondHeadlines
New Delhi: In a historic decision, the Central Information Commission (CIC) has held that political parties will also be covered under Right to Information Act, 2005 along with various government departments. The CIC held that now all political parties have to appoint public information officers and the appellate authorities, which will be responsible for providing the requested information to the people.
This decision came in a matters filed before CIC by Subhash Chandra Aggarwal and Anil Bairwal of Association for Democratic Reforms. The hearings in these matters were completed on 26th September, 2012 and 1st November, 2012, but the decision was lying pending since then. On 3rd June, 2013 CIC came up with the decision after almost six months. The decision regarding disclosure of information by political parties will go a long way in making the political system more transparent and accountable. Now the things will become more transparent as far as funding-raising by political parties and allotment of land to them are concerned.
CIC observed in its decision that “…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”.
After this historic decision, on one hand I am feeling good that at least RTI is becoming strong with each passing day and on the other hand I fear that political parties might develop some tricks to hide their crucial information regarding funds etc from the general public. These political parties used tactics to hide true information regarding amounts incurred on the elections and the same tactics will be employed by them to hide their information from the general public.
But one thing is sure that now the gap between the ruler and ruled will get reduced. This decision will help in exposing the real face of the so-called servants of the people.
I can recall that in 2006, Election Commission of India was approached through RTI to disclose the information regarding sources of funding of political parties. And we got this information from the Election Commission. The documents accessed through RTI by us revealed that most of the public schools are giving funds to political parties. The news became the headlines of many newspapers in India at that time.
This news came at a time when these public schools were behaving arbitrarily and this arbitrariness came to a halt for sometimes to revive again within a short span of time. And it’s not that they stopped giving funds to political parties. The only difference the RTI made was that now they do not maintain the records of their fund giving activities on papers.
Around 2007, it was disclosed through a RTI that party with a difference- BJP got funds from Dow Chemicals (earlier Union Carbide). The Union Carbide Company was responsible for the Bhopal Gas Leak disaster in December, 1984. This matter of getting funds by BJP from Dow Chmicals came in spotlight and the then leader of opposition in Madhya Pradesh Jamuna Devi demanded that BJP be de-registered. The Election Commission and the Courts were also approached in this regard. But nothing concrete came out of this. Many mining companies, real estate companies, trusts, resident welfare associations, exporters, MNCs and educational institutions were found to fund various political parties. We have been revealing from time to time all this.
We have been disclosing all these stories constantly (The link to all these stories is given below. Beyondheadlines filed many RTIs in this regard. Facts revealed by us were made the headlines of various newspapers and news channels since 2011). Prior to this decision of CIC, the information about political parties could be collected from Election Commission even before enactment of the RTI. Through an amendment in Representation of People Act, 1951 in 2003, it was provided that through form 24-A under section 29-C (1) all political parties have to give information about the sources of fund-raising and the amounts collected to the Election Commission of India. But under this law, only amounts above than Rs. 20,000 have to be disclosed. But now, with this present decision of CIC, we may now know through RTI the funds collected by any political party below Rs. 20,000 also.
The relevant question is whether we would be able to know that what benefits accrue to the fund-giver by funding the political parties. I think no. But, yes, we can reach to some conclusion by analyzing the funds given. The timing of the funds, given to the political parties, may provide crucial information as to why a candidate got a ticket etc or some concession by government etc. This decision is important but lots of information about political parties will still be far from the reach of the common people.
We know how government offices treat RTI applications. There is a resistance to the whole movement for transparency and accountability in the government offices. Even in the present case of disclosure of information by political parties, it took 3 years for CIC to come to the culmination of this case. Does a common man have such a patience and energy to wait for such a long period of time? Many a times, people get disappointment from Information Commissions also. I have many such experiences with Information Commissions. Cutting a long story short, there are many unanswered questions, which my experience with RTI poses to me. But I am of the view that at least some information is reaching to the people and in view of this, decisions like this, should be welcomed.
I wish Media could also be brought within the purview of RTI. Our struggle for this still continues.