In an interesting development amid the talk of transparency in public life by the political class, all political parties, except the Communist Party of India (CPI), refused to declare their largest donors and the manner of donations in public, claiming they are not a “public authority” and thereby do not come under the Right to Information Act 2005.
This was how they responded when the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), a non-profit organisation, asked the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Indian National Congress (INC), the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), the Communist Party of India (CPI) and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) under the RTI Act about their largest donors, matter of donations and their addresses.
Making these replies the basis, the ADR filed a complaint with the Central Information Commission (CIC) in March 2011 to direct the political parties to give this information. This complaint has now come up for hearing before the full bench of the CIC along with another complaint of Subhash Agarwal, an RTI activist, on September 26.
“Some of the political parties, in their replies to the complainants, have claimed that they are not a public authority and as such they are not covered by the RTI Act-2005. Since the issues involved are serious and the decision in these cases can have wider implications, the Commission has decided to place these cases before a full bench,” said the CIC notice issued to all the political parties and the Election Commission of India as well.
The BJP and the BSP did not respond to the RTI application in October 2010. The NCP replied, but said that it did not have enough manpower to provide the information sought.
Only the CPI provided the information and claimed it also had an internal appellate authority which could be approached if the appellant was not satisfied with its reply. In a letter signed by the then general secretary, A.B. Bardhan, the party said it was a public authority.