Attorney General and the Law Ministry are not on the same page over a move to keep political parties out of the ambit of the RTI Act.
This came to the fore at a meeting Parliamentary panel examining the measure.
Deposing before the Standing Committee on Law and Personnel here yesterday, Law Secretary B.A. Agarwal and other senior government officials defended the RTI (Amendment) Bill, 2013 while AG, G.E. Vahanvati had a contradictory view.
Government officials said a shield was necessary to keep political parties out of the ambit of the RTI Act.
They are understood to have cited the explanation in the bill introduced in the Lok Sabha in August.
The explanation on the bill reads: “The government considers that the CIC has made a liberal interpretation of Section 2(h) of the said (RTI) Act in its decision. Declaring a political party as public authority under the RTI Act would hamper its smooth internal working...further, the political rivals may misuse the provisions of RTI Act...”
But appearing before the Committee, AG Vahanvati is learnt to have said that political parties can come under the ambit of the transparency law as there were sufficient provisions in the RTI Act to shield political parties from undue harassment by rivals as feared.
In its June 3 order, the CIC had termed Congress, BJP, BSP, NCP, CPI and CPI(M) as political authorities.
The Right to Information (Amendment) Bill, 2013 seeks to insert an explanation in Section 2 of the Act which states that any association or body of individuals registered or recognised as political party under the Representation of the People Act, 1951 will not be considered a public authority.
Committee Chairman Shantaram Naik refrained from commenting on evidences given by officers or the AG, but said, “All the views placed before the Committee would be looked into while drafting the report.”
Meanwhile, sources in the committee said the panel would also examine as to whether the CIC order brining political parties under the ambit of the RTI is “binding or not”.
Since the CIC order came on June 3, the amended Act will come into force with retrospective effect from that date.
As of now, the CIC order is ‘operational’, meaning people are free to seek information under the RTI Act from political parties.
Government was forced to refer the Bill to the Standing Committee in the wake of opposition to the proposed amendment to the RTI Act from NGOs, civil society and information activists who claimed that it will defeat the very purpose of the transparency law.
BJP too had opposed the contents of the Bill and wanted it to be referred to a Parliamentary panel for wider consultations.