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Updated: March 27, 2014 02:45 IST

Transparency question stares in CPI(M) face

Krishnadas Rajagopal
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T.P. Chandrasekharan
T.P. Chandrasekharan

Party’s inquiry report on T.P. Chandrasekharan murder

Is the Communist Party of India (Marxist) [CPI(M)] bound to disclose its inquiry report into the Revolutionary Marxist Party leader T.P. Chandrasekharan murder case?

With the Lok Sabha poll date nearing, the United Democratic Front (UDF) is snapping at the party’s heels, challenging the CPI(M) to be transparent about the report.

“In the time of Right to Information Act, when information is flowing in from all quarters, the CPI(M), as a responsible political party, should publish the details and findings of their report into this political murder,” Home Minister Ramesh Chennithala told The Hindu on Tuesday during a visit here.

Public status

But the ‘public’ status of a political party has raised conflicting stands within the legal and legislative framework. In fact, the debate hinges on the larger question whether a political party is a ‘public authority’ or not under Section 2(h) of the Right to Information Act, 2005. The RTI seems to be the only avenue to access the report, unless the CPI(M) volunteers to make it public.

On one side, a Central Information Commission (CIC) decision of June 3, 2013 had declared that political parties enjoy statutory status under Section 29A of the Representation of the People (RP) Act, 1951, and hence were ‘public authorities’.

CIC reasoning

The CIC had based its order on the reasoning that “political parties affect the lives of citizens, directly or indirectly, in every conceivable way and are continuously engaged in performing public duty. It is, therefore, important that they became accountable to the public”.

The Commission reasoned that political parties wield constitutional status under the Tenth Schedule of the Constitution as they have the power to disqualify legislators from the Parliament and State Assemblies, bind legislators in their speeches and voting inside the house, decide what laws are made, decide whether government remains in power or which government should come to power and, lastly, decide public policies that affect lives of millions of people.

The Union Cabinet went on to counter the CIC by tabling the RTI (Amendment) Bill, 2013 on August 12, 2013. The pending Bill intends to amend the 2005 Act to exclude the political parties from the definition of ‘public authority’.

It explains that “political parties do not fall within the parameters of the definition of public authority given in the RTI Act, as they are only registered and recognised under the RP Act, 1951”.

If passed, the Bill would apply retrospectively, that is, with effect from June 3, 2013 – the date of CIC decision.

A Parliamentary Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice has also countered the CIC in a report in December 2013. It said political parties are not public authorities as they have not been created directly under the Indian Constitution.

Parliamentary report

The parliamentary report had further criticised the CIC, saying it gave too liberal an interpretation of the usage ‘public authority’ and made political parties open to motivated and malicious RTI applications from rival parties.

RTI activists and legal experts differ on whether the CPI(M) is bound to disclose the inquiry report on RTI request.

“As of now, the CIC decision bringing political parties under RTI ambit stands. There has been no amendment to the 2005 Act nor have any of the six political parties, including the CPI(M), challenged the CIC decision with a writ application in the Delhi High Court. I am personally going to file a complaint with the CIC against the non-implementation of the June 3 order by political parties,”

D.B. Binu, noted RTI activist, said. “The decision of a quasi-judicial body like the CIC can only be practically considered as an opinion. Ideally, the question whether political parties are public authorities or not should be left to the Legislature to decide,” Kaleeswaram Raj, senior advocate at the Kerala High Court, said.

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