Seventeen months after the Central Information Commission ruled that the Right to Information Act applied to six national political parties, none of them has complied with the Act or appealed against it.
A full Bench of the commission, comprising Information Commissioners Vijai Sharma, Sharat Sabharwal and Manjula Prasher, had posted a hearing on the parties’ non-compliance with its order for Friday afternoon, but none of them appeared before it. The commission heard the RTI activists and reserved its order for a later date.
While, the BJP has not replied to the commission’s notice on non-compliance with its order, the Congress had in March submitted that Parliament was yet to take a final decision on amending the RTI Act; that Bill however lapsed with the 15th Lok Sabha. In October, the Congress said it disagreed with the order.
The two Communist parties — the CPI(M) and the CPI — submitted that they disagreed with the CIC’s order, but did not take any legal action against it. On Friday evening, spokespersons for neither the Congress nor the BJP were able to tell The Hindu why they did not attend the hearing. Representatives of the two parties said leaders were busy with Assembly elections.Open defiance
“The non-compliance and the open defiance has had, and continues to have, a very serious detrimental effect on the state of democracy in the country at large,” Jagdeep Chhokar, co-founder of Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), said at Friday’s hearing.
Seeking “exemplary compensation,” Mr. Chhokar asked the CIC to direct that political parties should pay five per cent of their declared annual income, a sum of Rs. 44 crore, into the Prime Minister’s Relief Fund.
RTI activist Subhash Agarwal appealed to the Bench to abolish subsidised land allotment to these parties, free air-time on official media, government accommodation and Income Tax exemptions.
In June 2013, a full Bench of the CIC ruled on complaints filed by Mr. Agarwal and the ADR, seeking information about the disclosure of financial accounts and funding of political parties, — since six national parties enjoyed substantial public funding and the nature of their duties pointed towards their public character, they were public authorities and the RTI Act applied to them.
It directed them to appoint information officers, dispose of RTI applications addressed to them and comply fully with the Act.