Why are political parties out of RTI ambit?
Dr Anjani Kumar Jha
Central Information Commission (CIC) has ordered that since six national political parties, INC/AICC, BJP, CPI(M), CPI, NCP and the BSP are substantially financed by the Central Government, so under Section 2(h) of the Right To Information (RTI) Act, they need to reveal their source of funding. It is amazing that Left and Right parties are in one front. If Congress, BJP and Left parties are honestly doing their business, then why they are opposing it? Without financial transparency how can any party will get the certificate of honesty.
Then it will be automatically proved that there is close nexus between political parties and businessmen. That is why hawala, fixing, fake note business are prospering with the help of parties. The problem could have been dealt with by devising a way to safeguard the internal autonomy of the political parties.
The Bill inserts a new Section 31 in the principal Act which says that the amendment will apply “notwithstanding anything contained in any judgement, decree or order of any court or commission” and will prevail over any other law for the time being in force.
The Election Commission (EC) had taken up the exercise of holding consultation with political parties to frame guidelines on poll manifesto in the wake of Supreme Court judgement recently. But the Congress and BJP have opposed the suggestion to frame guidelines.
In fact all political parties have much vested interest which are fully exposed, although CIC’s order has been warmly welcomed by civil societies. People have understood that the role of the parties in this context is very unethical and unparliamentary. Almost all parties are hiding their expenditure and income.
Another serious threat to the parliamentary system in India is the steep decline in the representative nature. As per Election Watch statistics, as many as 306 MPs in the 15th Lok Sabha are crorepatis. This is more than a 100 per cent increase over the 14th Lok Sabha. The average asset of an MP is nearly Rs 5.8 crore. Is it not a farce that they are the representatives of a society where the daily consumption of more than 77 per cent of people is below Rs 20? Another statistic is that 32 per cent of the candidates who have assets of more than Rs 5 crore won in the last Lok Sabha elections.
The nature of the political response has been even more disappointing and unacceptable. Can any institution be a judge, jury, supplicant and an advocate, in a matter in relation to itself? Is this interpretation of privilege constitutional? Is it ethical or logical?
A blanket exemption can surely not be the means to make a political system strong, transparent and accountable. This amendment dramatically exposes the extent of doublespeak. It is obvious that they are not willing to answer questions of the citizen on anything even financial matters.
People focus on substantive issue not the technicalities. They want parties to live up to their rhetoric of transparency, and their stated desire to fight corruption in politics. This amendment would negate one of the biggest opportunities we have had to identify, and fight the misuse of money in politics.
(The writer can be contacted at [email protected])
Farce of Indian democracy
For politicians, by politicians and of politicians!
Subhash Chandra Agrawal
There were many hopes when ‘Right To Information Act’ was introduced in the country in the year 2005 which was called, and rightly too, as a second freedom to the citizenry. But when sword of the wonderful legislation reached to our political parties to make them accountable and transparent, our self-centred politicians cutting across party lines united to undo the historic verdict from Central Information Commission by a short cut route of clipping wings of transparency Act itself through amendment in the RTI Act. Such a cowardly act of political parties endorses correctness of a well-drafted CIC-verdict where no political party could find a flaw in the reasoned CIC-verdict to be challenged in the courts.
Morality and ethics (which do not exist in political community) demand that Bill to keep political parties out of purview of RTI Act must be pre-conditioned that they will have to return land and bungalows allotted to them by Union and State governments at subsidised rate and lease apart from making all other government-facilities like voters’ list, radio and Doordarshan timings, etc available on payment of cost. Tax-concessions available to them should also be abolished.
The said legislation should make all cooperative societies including Multi-State-Cooperative Societies (MSCS), Public-Private-Partnerships (PPP) and all national-level sports-federations including BCCI to be covered under RTI Act. All those getting land and accommodation from governments at subsidised lease/rate, etc should be declared as public authorities under RTI Act. Considering dominating role of private sector on day-to-day aspects of public life like telecommunications and banking, private sector above certain specified turn-over should also be brought under RTI Act.
A press-release dated 08.07.2009 from Union Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances & Pensions as available on website of Press Information Bureau (PIB) http://pib.nic.in/newsite/erelease.aspx?relid =49920 clearly mentions of assurance given in the Parliament by the Union Government in a written reply that Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and Social Activists will be consulted before any amendment in RTI Act. With such assurance from Union Government in the Parliament, any amendment in RTI Act including for keeping political parties out of RTI Act may even be considered as contempt of the Parliament. President of India in his dual capacity as Head of the nation and the Parliament should honour assurance given in this regard by his government in the Parliament.
Unusual political unanimity is always seen when some similar verdicts come from Supreme Court. Parties have opted to undo Supreme Court verdicts on tainted ones entering the Legislature by asserting supremacy of the Parliament. But practically it is supremacy of the Parliamentarians whose taking politics as profession and political-shops is affected by the Supreme Court’s verdicts aimed to cleanse political system.
No Parliamentarian will ever invest on a poll gamble for public welfare by investing like rupees eight crore on the Lok Sabha election and ‘buying’ a Rajya Sabha seat for rupees 100 crore. These are investments for minting money out of corruption.
Apprehensions about ruling parties misusing the Supreme Court verdict on poll-eves against their political opponents are valid. But instead of totally negating the Supreme Court verdict, some effective remedy should be legislated to practically free Legislature from criminals. Supreme Court’s verdict left a big gap where it could not be implied on tainted leaders having decisions on their appeals pending in higher courts after trial courts convicted them years ago.
Notorious Parliamentarians could not be convicted in infamous JMM-bribery case because their act for voting in favour of PV Narsimharao government in the Parliament after being bribed was considered immunised being part of Parliamentary proceedings! Immunity available from legislative proceedings should be abolished to bring culprits like of JMM-bribery case convicted under normal law of land, which will also prevent the Parliament House being misused as shelter-house by absconding Parliamentarians. Basic need is massive poll reforms including ‘Right to reject’. But will our law makers clip their own wings by accepting long pending Election Commission’s recommendations in this regard?
Political parties are crying that they respect the Election Commission and give all required details to it. But in practice they never cared to respect long-pending recommendations of Election Commission for poll reforms including also about putting option to opt for ‘None to vote’ on Electronic Voting Machines (EVM)s. Even Election Commission’s directive for all candidates providing details of wealth and criminal records was followed only after Supreme Court’s directive.
(Guinness Record Holder & RTI Activist)