Cabinet nod to protect parties from RTI Act

NEW DELHI (TIP): Ignoring concerns raised by civil rights activists the Union Cabinet on August 1 gave its nod for amending the Right to Information (RTI) Act to exclude political parties from its purview. The bill will be placed before the monsoon session starting August 5.

The amendments have been necessitated by a Central Information Commission (CIC) order on June 3 that ruled that 6 national parties— Congress, BJP, BSP, CPI, CPM and NCP—were public authorities on the grounds that they were substantially funded by the government. The CIC also directed the parties to appoint public information officers by July 15, an order that was ignored by all 6. The cabinet gave its nod to amend the RTI Act to keep political parties out of the ambit of transparency law.

The department of personnel and training (DoPT), which acts as nodal department for the implementation of the RTI Act, in consultation with law ministry moved the proposal to amend the RTI Act. The government seeks to change the definition of public authorities mentioned under Section 2 of the RTI Act to keep all political parties out of the jurisdiction of RTI, the sources said. Government sources said that there was unanimous support from all political parties on the issue.

The CIC order argued that political parties received income tax exemptions and doles from government including land, electoral rolls and airtime on public broadcaster at nominal rates on the grounds that they were doing social service. The CIC order said that since the parties’ professed to be working for the public, they should be open to scrutiny from the public on the finances and decisions. Political parties across the board have opposed the order. They have argued that political parties are a voluntary association of people and in fact a very small part of their funds come from the government.

The parties also said that they were under scrutiny of the Election Commission and the Income Tax authorities. Both parties and candidates are expected to furnish their sources offunding and details of assets owned to both authorities. Prominent activists including Aruna Roy, Shailesh Gandhi, Jayati Ghosh, Kamini Jaiswal,Nandita Das, Prashant Bhushan and Soli Sorabjee have written to the PM. Petitions have also been sent to parliamentarians to oppose the act which is unlikely since the bill has near unanimous political support.

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