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Updated: August 17, 2013 23:54 IST

Fleeing the light

    Aruna Roy
    Nikhil Dey
Comment (29)   ·   print   ·   T  T  

Political parties have acted as judge, jury, supplicant and advocate in their move to amend the RTI Act and exempt themselves from its purview. Their rhetoric on transparency is more hollow than ever

A friend called the other day, and said: “I want to congratulate all of you in the RTI community, because you have managed to do what no one, and nothing else has managed to for a long time: bring about unity and unanimity in the political class.” His comment, laced with irony and sarcasm was not far from the truth.

The Central Information Commission (CIC) decision to classify political parties as public authorities and bring them under the RTI Act has kicked up a storm in our democratic polity.

The reaction of the parties to the Central Information Commission order that political parties will be considered public authorities under the RTI has been poor in content and abysmal in form. It is a pity that the opportunity provided for the politician to transform into a statesman is lost in the muddle of apprehension and self-interest. For a country that is unanimous in its opinion that electoral politics and democratic governance are being perverted by the undue influence of money, and vested interests, both the content and the form of reaction are important.

Let us understand the content first. Through the one line amendment, political parties in parliament are seeking to carve out an exclusive space for themselves beyond the reach and purview of the RTI Act. While all other associations or bodies constituted by law, can come under the purview of the RTI Act, an insertion “explains” that by law, this will exclude any association of persons registered under the Representation of Peoples Act.

Here are a set of implications that arise from this quick and potentially decisive amendment: The representatives of the people, have made it clear that they do not want to be answerable to the people. By removing themselves completely from the purview of the transparency law, they are preventing any obligation they might have to directly answer any query from the citizen on any issue.

This amendment dramatically exposes the extent of doublespeak. Many politicians have shared their concern with the growing influence of money, and even political parties have expressed distress that the use of unaccounted money is completely perverting the democratic political system. While parties across the spectrum have publicly reiterated their commitment to full financial transparency, the content of this “consensual” amendment has revealed the truth. By proposing a blanket exemption for themselves from the RTI Act, it is clear that they are not willing to answer questions of the citizen on anything- even financial matters.

Credibility gap

The yawning gap between ‘statements submitted’ and real expenditure during elections is no secret. Recent statements by politicians have exposed dramatically what real election spending to "secure" a seat means. This does not end with party issues but also determines key appointments in government. Is it surprising that the citizen wants to know where the money comes from and where it goes?

This amendment would negate one of the biggest opportunities we have had to identify, and fight the misuse of money in politics. Let us not have any illusions. Fighting corruption, and corporate/commercial influence in politics is only possible with the help of the ordinary citizen. The RTI has evolved into a decentralised process that allows an ordinary person to interface at her own expense and with her constitutional legitimacy as a sovereign citizen. The multiple uses of the Act to improve government functioning are so many that they defy enumeration. Accepting applicability of the RTI is therefore seen as the one stated intent of any structure to lay itself open to scrutiny and accountability. It is the many questions that citizens will pose, in a million places across the country, that will shine the torch, search, probe, expose, audit, and actually help regulatory institutions like the income tax department, and the election commission to eventually bring about real change and political reform.

Legitimate objections

This is not to say that we do not understand the complexities of political activity, and the need to keep some internal discussions out of the public domain. We do not feel that every question that is asked by every citizen needs to be answered under this, or any other law. The technical reading of the Act by the CIC brought political parties under the purview of the RTI Act as public authorities. The technical implication of being classified a ‘public authority’ has led to many legitimate objections from party leaders. Even with the current CIC decision, the concerns could have been “technically” addressed without amending the act – even through some amendments to the rules, perhaps. After all, even the defence establishment keeps strategy and internal matters out of the public domain while subjecting itself to, and benefiting from the purview of the RTI Act.

The nature of the political response has been even more disappointing and unacceptable. When a privileged class closes ranks to impose its decision, it is “technicalities” with the inevitable fallout that will determine the outcomes. Politicians know that substantive constitutional principles override technicalities of law. That is why perhaps in this case alone they were not willing to take the risk of taking the CIC decision to court.

And now the likelihood is that they will pass this amendment in their own court without even allowing the matter to go to the Standing Committee of Parliament. Can any institution be judge, jury, supplicant, and advocate, in a matter in relation to itself? Is this interpretation of privilege constitutional? Is it ethical or logical?

Eventually, none of us want to weaken the political system, or burden it with questions that will not allow it to function. But a blanket exemption can surely not be the means to make a political system strong, transparent, and accountable. This has led to the belief that freedom in internal matters and strategy like candidate selection is only a red herring to take the attention away from the real worry of financial disclosures.

If there had to be an amendment, it was incumbent upon parliamentarians to show that the political class was going to overcome technicalities to improve the scope of the law, not curtail it. People focus on substantive issues- not the technicalities. They want parties to live up to their rhetoric of transparency, and their stated desire to fight corruption in politics. This was in fact a historic opportunity lost to the exigencies of obvious and immediate self- preservation. It could have been used to enforce greater transparency not only amongst the political class, but also to expand direct coverage of the RTI to all institutions and organisations who spend public funds. In finding the substantively correct way of broadening coverage of the RTI, the political class, would not only have created a standard for themselves, but for the whole fabric of Indian society.

That would have been a huge quantum leap towards a healthy and ethical society.

(Aruna Roy and Nikhil Dey are social activists working in Rajasthan). arunaroy@gmail.com

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Political parties under RTI ActAugust 17, 2013

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Unity and unanimity in the political class?
In recent time, political class showing unity& unanimity rarely found, over some legislations such as they are trying to override the judicial verdict of apex court which intended to prevent criminals from contesting election. Political leaders quitely rejected right to reject &recall nature of which is debatable, and now coming under the purview of RTI, all the thigs shows that a major part ,not all, is reluctant to prevent reform measures which is tend to trasperancy in governance as mentioned by Aruna Roy & Nikhil Day .
Exposure of Doublespeak
As Roy & Day rightly mentioned that electoral politics and democratic governance are being perverted by the undue influence of money, and vested interests. Conclusion is that Political class trying to steer clear of it from reforms and now the likelihood is that they will pass this amendment in their own court.

from:  PRADEEP MEENA
Posted on: Aug 19, 2013 at 23:34 IST

Political parties are public authorities and they get subsidies from the
government therefore they should be covered under the RTI Act.
People of India have every right to know about the parties, its
structure, its funding. They only vote them to the power therefore
political parties should liable to the people of India.
This amendment is a serious blow to the transparency which is needed in
the political system of the India.

from:  Akash
Posted on: Aug 18, 2013 at 23:26 IST

I am saying this now, and will say this time -n- again, the only solution for the
Indians now is AAM AADMI PARTY.
The people will decide what they want, majority opinion will be taken into account.
Here we keep saying this should be done, that should be done, but who is going to
do that. We need to permanent solution for all these things going wrong.
Well, even AAP can go wrong, no doubt, but then there common man would have the
option of rectifying it, approaching the authority and demanding a positive solution
instead of just complaining/protesting (for RTI, JanLokpal, Rape cases, et cetera)to
deaf ears....
WE NEED TO UNITE AGAINST all WRONG. AAP is the platform. Come forward n lets
work together to save this nation, our motherland, OUR INDIA.

from:  Kumar Vinit
Posted on: Aug 18, 2013 at 22:53 IST

I think we should first appreciate the working of RTI activists whom
efforts are making common man a part of democratic setup. This is just
because political parties out of their vested interests oftenly dupe the
gullible voters to meet their ambitions but with RTI intervening in the
financial grounds of these parties can potentially reveal the influence
of 'wrongly-calculated' money in bringing out the intended results and
it's not astonishing as to why the parties want to be out of the purview
of RTI!
To achieve the incumbency, political parties takes the help of what they
state to exterminate through their manifesto's i.e Corruption and this
forms the grass root level of present rampant corruption .Well, its all
the game of money and power and nothing to do with people
interests.Thus,bringing these unscruplous parties who claims to have
ethical grounds under the ambit of RTI will surely be a landmark step
towards the growth of country and its people.

from:  sahilgupta
Posted on: Aug 18, 2013 at 20:43 IST

It is only when the political parties are answerable and acoountable , they will be deemed worthy to institutionalise our country and its functionaing . I can not vote liars and cheaters and that is why most of us do not vote . Illiterate and poor are exploited to vote . Is politics all about exploitation and vote bank politics ? Should we always take lies in the answers and helplessely accept thm for thr truth ?

from:  Ruchika Mathur
Posted on: Aug 18, 2013 at 19:59 IST

We, as Indians should never blindly ape everything the West, the US in particular does. For example, the US also has a Right To Information act (some allege that is the fore-runner of the one we have in India) which allows ordinary citizens to access any information that concerns the nation’s public and political life. The only information that the public cannot access is what is declared Classified, and even that gets leaked by people like Edward Snowden and Bradley Manning. Just last month the famous (now ex-)congressman (similar to our MPs) Jesse Jackson junior and his wife were sentenced to jail terms for using about $700,000 they raised for their party’s political campaign. This suit used a great deal of information used as evidence to convict him and his wife. Thus politicians cannot blatantly misuse funds, though they can misinform the public through cleverly deceptive advertising etc. Thoughtless imitation of the US does not serve our needs.

from:  Mukundagiri Sadagopan
Posted on: Aug 18, 2013 at 18:57 IST

The real problem is that we all are suffering from short term memory loss. We never raise these kinds of public issues at the time of election when all called political servants come to us for votes.

One another our drawback of which these leaders are taking advantage is lack of our people awareness. We the very few people know what is really happening here. Most of the people even does not know what is RTI.? Here we lacks. Only a few can understand the advantage of RTI. These leaders only listen about the large vote bank. They will listen us only when ou vote bank will increase I.e. most of the people become aware of these facts.

from:  Vivek Sharma
Posted on: Aug 18, 2013 at 18:47 IST

See the plight of our Nation. Everybody who commented on this and every body who are outside of political party wants the political parties answerable under RTI Act. But the politicians at all party levels unanimously agreed to strike it down. I wish you could take a survey about this and publish it!! Public opinion does not matter here?

from:  marudah
Posted on: Aug 18, 2013 at 18:46 IST

Hope this decision is reviewed by the supreme court and struck down as bad in law

from:  ron temples
Posted on: Aug 18, 2013 at 16:55 IST

In a well structured democratic Indian nation people want to know each
aspect of their dealings. This is a voice country, but RTI Act kept out
of purview of political parties has demoralized all the voters & well
wishers of our country. It is clearly hegemony of Political parties by
leaving the people as slaves of their orders.

from:  Rajendra Balekundri
Posted on: Aug 18, 2013 at 16:24 IST

It is hard to believe that the driving system of our country ; political parties; are exempted from The RTI. Is that so political parties are uncorrupt? Or we have to get ourselves convinced regarding the facts/statistics which they would reveal. Transparency is removed. All the parties seemed united in this amendment. There are several bills pending regarding the economic development with the parliament. The parties agreed happily as from now they won't be questioned anymore. This amendment cannot be welcomed.

from:  Ashutosh Dalal
Posted on: Aug 18, 2013 at 16:09 IST

This uproar over the RTI amendment before the LS Elections is a good eye opener for the public. If they fail to understand the double talks they are being subjected to even after this, then I guess these parties are justifies in cleaning their dirt on our expenses.

from:  Parul Sethi
Posted on: Aug 18, 2013 at 15:53 IST

The representatives of the people should have the genuine aspect for the right of equality for ones and for all. If every other institution is getting covered under RTI then how could they be an exception? Consensus among few legislatures excluded them from every other institution that need to have transperancy. What about the citizens of this nation's need for the answers: from where these money are coming ? Are you people repaying them ? If yes how ?

from:  Porikhit Gogoi
Posted on: Aug 18, 2013 at 15:05 IST

Even if we bring the politicians questionable under the RTI act they are not going to answer us, because they will always say they are busy when in power and sick when not in power. They don't respect our judicial system. Unless we disqualify the nominees during election on the basis that-if they do not appear in court and cooperate with the investigation to wrap up the convictions within a reasonable time( 5 years), we are screaming on deaf years.

from:  marudah
Posted on: Aug 18, 2013 at 14:15 IST

The political should have allowed the amendment in RTI to help achieve greater transparency which is of paramount importance and which in a way is the first step to contain corruption. Had this step taken by the government, people faith in them would have definitely increased manifold.

from:  Mohsin
Posted on: Aug 18, 2013 at 13:40 IST

I believe that it will be good if we exclude the political parties from the preview of rti act just to remove more complexity.
If today political party are included in rti act, people will definitely ask the source of funds from parties......total amount of money expended during election.....
And there is no authenticity that whether reply given by party are true or not...so it will make the system more complex.
The country who have there political party under rti act are only because they have few party and their electroral system is very much transparent. If we look last lok sabha election....337 party including indivisual had contested the election. Now with how many u gonna ask intetnal mattet question.
So it is a good thing that parties should be kept away from the preview of rti act

from:  Shashank Shekhar
Posted on: Aug 18, 2013 at 13:07 IST

If they are not public authorities, they should not collect money from the public. If you are collecting money from the public, you're subject to public scrutiny.

from:  Hari Nair
Posted on: Aug 18, 2013 at 12:07 IST

RTI is indeed a boon for a democratic country like us. People should be aware of their representatives and their institutions. Why the political parties are scaring?they should welcome this great notion.

from:  Ajay Kumar
Posted on: Aug 18, 2013 at 11:56 IST

In the biggest double speak of the century, the PM of India on Independence Day address from the ramparts of Red Fort claimed that his government will strengthen the RTI Act, at the same time, only a couple of days back he himself had convened an all party meet to discuss the measures to nullify the impact of CIC order declaring the political
partied as the public entities. We had an editorial in the same newspaper lamenting the speech by Mr Narendra Modi, challenging the PM as it allegedly undermined the sanctity of such an important day as the ID. By leading the pack to castrate the RTI on the one hand and claiming to strengthen the Act on the other, that too from the historic
Red Fort, the PM has exposed the true face of Indian political class. And the alacrity shown by other political parties, such as the BJP and the Communist Parties, to support the proposed amendment to the RTI Act, is just as disappointing with no hope for a better tomorrow.

from:  Bhupal Singh
Posted on: Aug 18, 2013 at 11:02 IST

Fact of the matter is they are accountable directly to the people when
they contest elections. It is we people who don't have capabilities or
interest to judge them on their transparency and accountability claim
and make choices accordingly. When we are not interested in showing them
their ugly face they have all right to clean themselves or just to be
like that.

from:  Purushottam
Posted on: Aug 18, 2013 at 10:52 IST

This is not surprising.In our country,RTI activists are even murdered in broad daylight just for demanding transparency.Honesty and integrity are not at all present in our political class.

from:  Pranay Mudgil
Posted on: Aug 18, 2013 at 09:16 IST

This is in contrast to the speech by the PM on the Lal Quila on the independence day where he specifically stressed on RTI Act and stated to further strengthen it for better utilisation of the public spending. Political parties needless to say have been making mockery of their own statements. This phenomenon has now got a historic height. Let's see if we can do something.

from:  Ashim Debnath
Posted on: Aug 18, 2013 at 09:16 IST

The logic of accountability to the election commission and to the people of India does not hold good. While other public bodies are accountable to public, government and to courts, political parties seem averse to any serious scrutiny other than counting of votes which are largely earned on the bases other than propriety. Also, the parliamentary democracy in India noway subjects political parties and their candidates to serious financial scrutiny. Only RTI can make political parties truly transparent and accountable.

from:  Anuj
Posted on: Aug 18, 2013 at 08:52 IST

Implementation of RTI is not panacea to fix all problems of
transparency in our political parties.

We, as a society, have to come up the curve. Transparency in
political parties will be a bottom driven change and that change
will be acceptable and no legislation or executive order will be
required.

We expect too much from our politicians and political parties
without looking inwards.

India would have been only the 3rd country had we brought our
political parties under RTI act. The political parties are
breeding ground for politicians and that should not be regulated.

India has The Representation of People Act, 1951(RPA) which takes
care of basic governance required for political parties.

The political parties are reflection of our society.

from:  Santosh Singh
Posted on: Aug 18, 2013 at 08:06 IST

Can we have statistics on how much it costs to run a political party and where these funds come from? How much of this is black and what does it cost the exchequer? The FM may well consider to impose servuce tax on political parties since they are using the infrastructure of the country for rallies and other activities?

from:  Sujith
Posted on: Aug 18, 2013 at 07:44 IST

Right now, those who are not able to generate black money have low place in political parties. Successful politicians are one of the major originators and beneficiaries of black money in India. They are the backbone of their co-promoters in trade, industries and bureaucracy. All of them complement among themselves.
Though it has not brought down corruption, RTI has certainly exposed corruption. Perhaps, the weak willed among the corrupt are now a little bit reluctant to continue their old practices. So, keeping the economic activities of political parties under the purview of the RTI, definitely, is the first step to reduce corruption.

from:  N.Chellappa
Posted on: Aug 18, 2013 at 07:42 IST

Lucky this RTI activist is not attacked so far. I am a senior citizen
and probed through RTI act the rates that were concluded in the tender
for using Pay & Use lavatory in some town municipality. When the
official letter was received it was clear that the contractor was
charging exorbitant rates. Confronted with that information, the enraged
contractor slapped me. This incident highlights one point; by having
this act, we have come to part of the process towards transparency in
governance but still we have to go more distances.

from:  chandrasekaran
Posted on: Aug 18, 2013 at 07:20 IST

Statesman is an avatar. Politician never rise up to that level. They have to hide than reveal. Statesman has nothing to hide. He is an open book.RTI is important. Political parties must be brought within its vortex.

from:  Ram.Sunthar.
Posted on: Aug 18, 2013 at 07:12 IST

How can fight corruption without transperancy in pol.parties? Charity begins at whose homes?

from:  Samarjit Thakur
Posted on: Aug 18, 2013 at 00:43 IST
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