The Union Cabinet has approved draft amendments to the Right To Information Act (RTI) that would nullify an order of the Central Information Commission (CIC) bringing the six national political parties under the orbit of the Act.
The draft amendments to the RTI are expected to be moved in the monsoon session of Parliament beginning on August 5 and voted upon as there is consensus among most of the parties that the CIC has exceeded its jurisdiction by passing such an order.
In its order in early June, the CIC, in response to petitions by several RTI activists, had ruled that the national parties have to share details with RTI petitioners on issues related to their funding and the criteria on which they have selected candidates for fighting elections.
The amendments will ensure that the political parties are not obliged to disclose the basis on which they have chosen their candidates.
The parties are already obliged to disclose their funding details under other laws. The position of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) on the CIC order echoes the sentiments of most of the parties. The party had said that it “cannot accept the order of the Central Information Commission that political parties are to be treated as ‘public authorities’ and brought under the purview of the Right to Information Act. This decision is based on a fundamental misconception about the role of political parties in a parliamentary democracy.”
Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath told reporters that the government has chosen to approve the amendments because the majority of the political parties want these amendments.
The CPI (M) had argued that to apply the Right to Information Act and demand access to the internal deliberations of the party whether it be on policy matters, organisational decisions or selection of candidates will constitute a serious infringement of inner-party functioning, confidentiality of discussions and undermine the political party system itself.
“Opponents of a political party can utilise the RTI as an instrument to destabilise a party,” the party said.
The party had said, “One of the concerns of the CIC seems to be transparency of the funding and finances of political parties. At present, according to the law, all political parties are required to submit their accounts to the Income Tax department and the Election Commission. Already under the RTI, the statement of accounts and the finances of the parties are accessible to anyone from the Election Commission.”