Civil society activists are gearing up for an offensive against the government’s proposed legislation to exclude political parties from the ambit of the RTI Act. Besides petitions to parliamentarians, the PM and the President urging them not to support the amendments, activists plan to hold protest demonstrations and even challenge the legislation in court as a last resort.
The Union Cabinet on Thursday cleared two amendments to the transparency Act to counter the Central Information Commission (CIC) June 3 order that the six national political parties ” Congress, BJP, BSP, NCP, CPI and CPM ” were public authorities. The bill is likely to be brought in the monsoon session of Parliament starting on Monday.
Despite a series of petitions to MPs and PM Manmohan Singh signed by eminent citizens including Aruna Roy, Shailesh Gandhi, Shekhar Singh and others, the government is fairly confident of smooth passage of the RTI bill.
Activists plan to challenge the proposed legislation on the grounds that it is against the constitutional right to freedom of speech. There has been a precedent earlier when the Supreme Court struck down an amendment to the Representation of People’s Act in 2002 and directed candidates to submit their financial details and criminal antecedents before the Election Commission of India. SC said the amendment was in violation of the constitutional right to freedom of speech.
Association of Democratic Reforms (ADR) co-founder Prof Jagdeep Chhokar said, “We hope RTI Act is not passed and wise counsel prevails on the lawmakers. In the unfortunate event that it is passed by Parliament, it will be challenged in court of law. The exact nature of which will depend on the specific wording of the amendments.”
Activists said there was a clear case of conflict of interest with MPs seeking to exclude themselves from the transparency Act.
The National Campaign for People’s Right to Information (NCPRI) plans a protest demonstration on August 6 at Jantar Mantar to voice their concern against the government’s decision.
RTI activist S C Agrawal said if political parties were trying to escape scrutiny of the RTI Act, they should also return land and accommodation allotted by the central and state governments at subsidized costs and tax concessions to political parties must be abolished.