Thursday, June 13, 2013

RTI and Political Parties in India

The UN General Assembly's Resolution 59(1) adopted at the 65th plenary meeting on December 14, 1946 says:
Freedom of information is a fundamental human right and the touchstone for all freedoms to which the UN is consecrated.
 The UNDP policy explicitly notes that:
The Right To Information is not only fundamental for an open and democratic society but also a key weapon to fight against poverty and in accelerating human development.
Several countries have enacted laws to give the people a legal right to demand information from the public authorities. Such efforts are made to strengthen the spirit of democracy.

In India the Right To Information Act came into existence in 2005. The Act repealed the Freedom of Information Act. 2002. But ironically, the Official Secrets Act, 1923 (OSA) has not been repealed. The Administrative Reform Committee (ARC) is in favor of repealing of the OSA, 1923.

Under the RTI Act the Central Government has constituted a Central Information Commission (CIC) consisting of a Chief Information Commissioner and Information Commissions not exceeding ten in number.
The CIC Chief is nominated by the consensus of the Prime Minister, leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha, a Cabinet Minister nominated by the PM. On the similar lines State Information COmmission is constitued by State Governments for their respective States.

The RTI Act makes it mandatory for each public authority to appoint a specific Public Information Officer for providing information in time to the public. In the present age of ICT it has become easier for the public authorities to share the information through internet easily to the public.

Recently the CIC of India recommended that the political parties must be brought under the RTI Act. Several political leaders oppose this proposal as the definition of "Public Authority" does not circumscribes political parties.

Public authority:

Section 2(h) of the Right To Information Act defines public authority as:

" public authority" means any authority or body or institution of self- government established or constituted-
(a) by or under the Constitution;
(b) by any other law made by Parliament;
(c) by any other law made by State Legislature;
(d) by notification issued or order made by the appropriate Government, and includes any-
(i) body owned, controlled or substantially financed;
(ii) non- Government organisation substantially financed, directly or indirectly by funds provided by the appropriate Government;

Coming back to ARC recommendation 2008, in the introduction of Chapter 4 on Ethics and Governance, the ARC mentions:
The standard for probity in public life should be not only conviction in a criminal court but propriety as determined by suitable independent institutions specifically constituted for the purpose. We have broadly copied the British model of governance. Ministers in Tony Blair’s government have had to resign on such minor improprieties as a telephone call to the concerned person to fast track the issue of a visa for the ‘nanny’ of the Minister’s child or the grant of British citizenship to a generous contributor to a cause supported by the Government. Such principles were upheld and pronounced by Jawaharlal Nehru in the Mudgal case in which the said Lok Sabha Member was expelled by Parliament on 24th September, 1951 even when the Member volunteered to resign. The Mudgal case is often cited as the noblest example of the early leadership’s efforts at setting high standards of conduct in parliamentary life.

Whatever be the definition of Public Authority, there is a crying need for making the Political Leaders accountable to the public and this can be done by making the internal functioning of the Political Parties more transparent so that the people may know who funds the parties and how the parties help the funding hands in return. The corruption in India is not only rampant but chronic and severely affects the lives of millions of poor and needy. Its time to become a little more contextual than being too much textual in our arguments and welcome the CIC recommendation.

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