Skip to main content

Political parties need not act as public authorities, RTI watchdog rules; activists angry

By Our Representative
The Central Information Commission (CIC), the national watchdog of right to information (RTI), has said it cannot do anything about the six national level political parties, which have refused to comply with its two-year old order declaring them public authorities under the RTI Act. Reacting strongly, senior RTI activist Venkatesh Nayak has termed the decision "tame", adding it is a "body blow" to the regime of transparency established by the Act.
According to the CIC decision, as the political parties are not government departments, penalties cannot be imposed on any leader or member and even if imposed there would be no mechanism for realising it. It said, compensation also cannot be awarded to the complainants under the RTI Act, as there is no demonstrable loss or detriment caused to the complainants.
Nayak, who is programme coordinator of the Access to Information Programme under the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), said, "The CIC refused to even make a recommendation to the authorities to withdraw the privileges and facilities provided to these political parties at the taxpayers' expense."
"Instead", he added, "The CIC has forwarded a copy of the order to the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) to look at the gaps in the RTI Act and take any action it may deem appropriate."
The issue goes back to June 2013, when a full bench of the CIC declared six national level political parties -- Congress, BJP, the two Communist parties, Bahujan Samaj Party and the Nationalist Congress Party -- as public authorities.
By holding that these political parties were substantially financed by public funds and also pointing to their centrality to the democratic process in various spheres of decision-making, the CIC placed them on par with other public authorities that have similar obligations.
Rather than challenge this decision in a court of law, all political parties, including the State level parties authorised the Central Government to bring amendments to the RTI Act to keep them all out of its ambit and prevent citizens from seeking any information form them directly under this law.
While the Bill tabled in the Lok Sabha died a natural death with the dissolution of the House in May 2014, Nayak said, "Hundreds of thousands of people in India as well as those residing abroad joined the nation-wide campaign to leave the RTI Act unaltered. Realising the public mood, the six political parties chose to ignore the order instead."
This made RTI activists to complaint to the CIC alleging "non-compliance", Nayak said, adding, "Most of the political parties showed scant respect for the CIC's proceedings. After making the motions of holding an inquiry over several months, a full bench of the CIC has finally decided to wind up the inquiry holding that it can do nothing to secure compliance with its own orders."
Nayak comments, "The CIC's decision unwittingly or otherwise ends up creating an impression that it lacks the power (or 'mettle' or 'spunk' or 'spine') to ensure compliance with its orders."
This is not the first instance where the CIC was faced with a situation of non-compliance. In 2009 when the CIC faced a similar situation where the DoPT persistently refused to comply with its order regarding providing access to "file notings", the CIC issued notice about launching criminal action against the DoPT. But "when threatened with legal action, the DoPT fell in line."

Comments

TRENDING

Nirma varsity demand for higher fees 'illegal', violates Article 14: Letter to Gujarat HC

Counterview Desk
Students of Gujarat’s top private institute, Nirma University, situated in the outskirts of Ahmedabad, in a letter to the Chief Justice the state High Court, have complained that the authorities are demanding “full fees” from students, without taking into account the “disproportionate impact” the lockdown has on the livelihood of students and families.

Buddhist shrines massively destroyed by Brahmanical rulers in "pre-Islamic" era: Historian DN Jha's survey

By Our Representative
Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book, "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

Vulnerable to Covid-19, sharp rise in murder of Indian journalists during pandemic

By Nava Thakuria*
Vulnerability of working journalists in India is no way an alien issue as the populous country loses a number of working journalists to assailants as also medical emergencies. Even though there was only one casualty in the Indian media fraternity during the first half of 2020, who was targeted for journalistic work, India has begun witnessing an alarming number of media casualties during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Govt 'assures' Gujarat HC no action against MBBS students defying corona sahayak order

By Our Representative
The Gujarat government has assured the High Court that no action would be taken against Part-I and Part-II MBBS students of the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC)-controlled NHL Medical College and LG Hospital and Medical College. The assurance follows the direction by Justice SH Vora to the State government not to prosecute or initiate action against the students who were defying the college authorities’ order to work as corona sahayaks (helpers).

Ex-official: Murmu, appointed as CAG, will 'surely' perform shradh of the institution

Counterview Desk
A former senior official of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG), Shantanu Basu, in a Facebook comment in the wake of the appointment of GC Murmu, a Gujarat IAS cadre official of the 1985, has raised doubts about the independence of CAG following the Government of India move.

Renounced US citizenship to serve workers, tribals, Sudha Bharadwaj 'odiously' in jail

By Atul, Sandeep Pandey*
Professor Sudha Bharadwaj has been in jail since August 2018. She was taken into police custody on August 26, 2018 on suspicion of being involved in Maoist terror activities after Republic TV claimed that she had allegedly written a letter to Maoists and was conspiring to create public disorder and unrest in India.

Plant organic, eat fresh: Emlen Bage's journey from migrant labour to agri-entrepreneur

By Chandrashekar and Kriti*
Who is a farmer? Type this question in the google search and check out the images? You can see men thronging the screen. This is the popular perception around the globe. Well one can understand how difficult it would be for a woman to defy this perception.

High youth unemployment: India 'fails' to take advantage of demographic dividend

By Varun Kumar
As coronavirus pandemic continues amplifying challenges among youth with regard to employment opportunities, government policies have further resulted in economic slowdown, leading to mass unemployment and loss jobs. According to the International Labour Organisation report “Covid-19 and the World of Work” (May 27, 2020), around 94 percent of the world’s workers are living in countries with some sort of workplace closure measures in place.

Dichotomy? US Hindutva groups oppose racism, mum on Modi's 'anti-minority' stance

By Our Representative
The Hindus for Human Rights (HHR), a US-based advocacy group, has noticed a major dichotomy between the stance taken by RSS’ US arm, Hindu Swayamsewak Sangh (HSS), expressing “shock” at the “painful killing of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and so many others”, all of which suggest “the tragic tale of racial injustice” in US, and HSS’ “hatred” for India’s religious minorities and Dalits.