‘Political parties are only voluntary associations of individuals’

The government on Friday sought to justify its decision to amend the Right to Information Act to keep political parties out of its purview on the ground that they were not public authorities but were only voluntary associations of individuals.

Briefing reporters on the deliberations on Thursday of a Cabinet meeting, which approved the draft amendment to the RTI Act, Law Minister, Kapil Sibal said the stance of the Central Information Commission (CIC) that political parties were public authorities as they were substantially funded by the government and thus would come under the ambit of RTI Act was wrong.

If the interpretation of the CIC was right, then farmers, industries and others who also get substantial support from the government in the form of subsidies, tax exemptions and benefits should also be covered under the RTI. “We are elected. We are not appointed like officials.”

Mr. Sibal pointed out that several measures were in place to ensure transparency in the functioning of political parties. They include provisions under the Representation of the People Act for declaring donations to the parties, election expenditures made by the parties and their candidates and the assets and liabilities of candidates.

“There are sufficient provisions to deal with each and every aspect of financing, its declaration and punishment for filing false affidavit and all such information are made available to the public through the Election Commission’s website.’’

To a query, he affirmed that there was scope for more transparency, but stressed that it could not be through the RTI Act. “The Election Commission takes initiatives from time to time to make the political system more transparent and accountable and we all participate in those consultations.”

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