The government on Friday strongly defended the cabinet decision to amend the Right to Information (RTI) Act in order to keep political parties out of its ambit, saying no political party could function if the CIC order was implemented.
The issue has been in the news after a June 3 Central Information Commission (CIC) order stated that six national political parties would be brought under the RTI Act as they were public authorities, receiving significant funding from the government.
Had the CIC order been implemented, the political parties would be liable to declare their accounts and other details.
Law Minister Kapil Sibal said the government respected the CIC, but was concerned by its order. He further said: “This (order) will strike at the root of the political system. People will seek all sorts of details from political parties including their process of consultation and decision-making. Nowhere in the world does this happen.”
“The political parties are unanimous against the CIC order. Parties will not be able to function if this is allowed,” he added.
The government’s reaction came after the union cabinet Thursday approved two amendments to the RTI Act, one aiming at keeping political parties out of its ambit and the second stating that the CIC order was not binding on any political party.
According to the law minister, two options were available to the government — filing a writ petition in the high court against the CIC order, a time-consuming process; and second, amending the RTI Act, which could be done quickly.
Government sources said the change in the RTI Act would be made in the monsoon session starting Aug 5.
“The hurry is because the CIC order is operational. We want a quick resolution of this issue,” said Sibal.
The law minister gave a long list of points to indicate that political parties “did not function under a veil of secrecy” and were accountable.
“There seems to be an impression that political parties are not accountable. We get elected by the people. We have to reveal whatever donations we receive to the Election Commission. It is not as if donations to parties are unaccounted for,” said Sibal.
Donations received by political parties beyond Rs.20,000 have to be declared to the income tax department, the minister pointed out.
“This can also be made public. It is not as if the political parties operate under a veil of secrecy,” he said.
“We give an account of assets and liabilities to the Election Commission and also give an account of our expenses, there is transparency. Political parties are not companies or trusts. It’s a voluntary association of persons,” he said.
Sibal said parties already make declarations to the Election Commission. “We make declarations to the income tax department, and the IT department can make it public if it so thinks,” he said.
The minister went on to say that political parties are not appointed.
“We go to the people through an election process. We get elected, unlike government servants and people in a trust. There is a basic difference,” he said.
In a lighter vein, the law minister said it was the UPA government which had given the weapon of RTI Act in the hands of people.
Stressing that the government wanted greater transparency in the political system, the law minister said he has asked the law commission to start a poll reform process and consultations have already begun with parties.The EC, too, was holding similar consultations, he said.