In June, the CIC ruled that political parties should come within the ambit of the Right to Information Act
In a landmark judgment, in June this year, the Central Information Commission (CIC) ruled that political parties should come within the ambit of the Right to Information Act.
The CIC order noted: “We have no hesitation in concluding that INC/AICC, BJP, CPI(M), CPI, NCP and BSP have been substantially financed by the Central Government and, therefore, they are held to be public authorities under Section 2(h) of the RTI Act.”
The order, delivered by a full Bench of the commission comprising Chief Information Commissioner Satyananda Mishra and Information Commissioners M.L. Sharma and Annapurna Dixit held that the “criticality of the role being played by these parties in our democratic set-up and the nature of duties performed by them also point towards their public character, bringing them within the ambit of Section 2(h). The constitutional and legal provisions discussed herein above also point towards their character as public authorities.”
Mr. Mishra, in an exclusive interview to The Hindu, steered clear of taking an explicit position on the amendment Bill tabled in the Lok Sabha. He maintained that “the CIC has done its job by giving the order and that it has neither the authority nor the interest to exceed its brief.” He, however, said all government-aided bodies could not be treated equally under the RTI Act.
Mr. Mishra, who will demit office on September 4, also spoke of his work at the CIC and the pressures and constraints that the Commission works under. He also talked about murmurs within the Commission on the need to ask the government for more teeth and powers.
What is the CIC’s stand on political parties now working together to avoid coming under the RTI Act umbrella?
The CIC has given its order on the matter and we have nothing more to say about it. The government has not come back to us asking our opinion on the changes that it wants to bring in, neither has the law or the Constitution given us the power to intervene in the matter to force the political parties to comply.
However, I do maintain that all government agencies and private, semi-private agencies (like sports clubs, etc.) cannot be treated at par.
I feel there should not be a blanket rule to give information about everything going on in private/semi-private establishments just because the government gives them some subsidies. It seems unfair and impractical. And, no I am not talking about protecting the political parties here. On the political parties being public bodies and coming under RTI, we have already cleared our stand. We cannot be seen taking sides of either the political parties or the public. That is not our job.
Given the limited powers of the CIC, will you seek more teeth and power for your organisation?
Yes, there is a feeling that the CIC needs to seek more powers to ensure that crucial orders given by it are implemented for the larger good of the public. Currently, we have a very limited mandate which at time is restrictive. The CIC has, however, immediate challenges that it need to overcome in order to become more effective.