The BJP welcomes anything that brings transparency and accountability which is equally applicable to all. We will follow the law as we have been in the past by submitting all our records to the Income Tax Authorities as well as the Election Commission.
However, the CIC judgement, which brings political parties under the ambit of the RTI and another that excludes NGOs from its purview, is based on a flawed interpretation of the statute. Both cases were before the same judges.
The judgement is based on Section 2(h) of the Act, as political parties are given substantial public funding by means of concessional land rates and income tax exemptions. Yet, NGOs which also run on funding by the government have been excluded. Income tax exemption cannot be said to be a form of financing. Such concessions and exemptions are routinely extended to many charitable and non-profit non-governmental organisations across the country. If these numerous non-governmental organisations are not considered to be public authorities, there is no reason why the political parties should be considered so.
The ECI calls for details of expenses made by the political parties in the elections. Contributions of the value of Rs 20,000 and above received from any person or a company by a political party are required to be intimated to ECI under section 29C of the R.P. Act. The BJP complies with all its obligations to the EC under the law. The EC, being a public authority comes under the purview of the RTI and has structures and mechanisms to respond to queries. Information regarding the party and candidates who are contesting elections can be gathered from the ECI. Political parties on the other hand have a loose administrative structure with most members working as volunteers—part time as per their own convenience and volition. The set up cannot be compared to any government authority/agency. Setting up bureaucratic structures within the party will act as an impediment to its efficiency.
Regarding the financial aspect of political parties, all accounts including details of sources of funds are submitted before the income tax authorities as well as the ECI. Thus, balance sheets and other details can be accessed from there. Creating structures for the same information within parties is a futile exercise.
Ultimately, political parties are not formed by the government or any Act of Parliament. Thus, decision making within the party remains its own internal affair. Details regarding party deliberations and method of allocating tickets is based on the party management’s discretion. And a party cannot be made liable to disclose its decision making process. The outcome of these decisions are already in the public domain. Other details regarding appointment of members to various posts are also given to ECI. Party decisions are also made available to the public through its website, press releases and the media. The ECI is a competent authority equipped to deal with queries relating to political parties and the parties themselves should not be burdened with the same.
The petitioners have tried to show that political parties are corrupt and must be made transparent. However, it is ironical that activists working for these NGOs themselves don’t want to be brought under the purview of the same Act. This criterion spelt out in section 2(h) (ii) clearly includes Non-Governmental Organisations within the ambit of the RTI Act.
Ideally, the concept of non-government organisation means that it is independent of any manner of government control in its establishment, or management. However, a number of NGOs receive substantial funding from the Government. The object for such funding is either a felt need of a section of the public, or to secure larger societal goals. To the extent of such funding, indeed, the organisation may be a tool, or vehicle for the executive government’s policy fulfilment plan.
Thus such funding by the appropriate government, whether centre or state, as per 2(h) makes an NGO a public figure.
The logic of this entire case fails when it comes to the NGOs. I find it incorrect that the order is right for the political parties and not for the NGOs, especially the case pertaining to Rajiv Gandhi Foundation. Why should the financial details of Rajiv Gandhi Foundation not be made public? They do not submit to the Election Commission of India. They are only submitting it to the income tax authorities. As recipients of public money, it is essential that the NGOs must be brought within the ambit of the RTI. There is a severe lack of any accountability mechanism vis a vis NGOs. Why should their incoming or outgoing flow of money not be tracked? It is extremely puzzling as to why the same bench would give different decisions regarding political parties and NGOs when they are being interpreted in light of the same section, 2(h) of the said Act. We are in favour of financial transparency, but there must be equality in application of the law.
In a Delhi High Court judgement, the Court termed Sanskriti School to be public authority. The rationale for the decision, which is relevant to this context, is, “As discussed earlier, grants by the Government retain their character as public funds, even if given to private organisations, unless it is proven to be part of general public policy of some sort. Here, by all accounts, the grants – to the tune of Rs 24 crore were given to the school, without any obligation to return it. A truly private school would have been under an obligation to return the amount, with some interest. ”