New Delhi: Three years after six national parties were brought under the ambit of the RTI Act, Congress on Monday asked the Central Information Commission to set aside its 2013 full bench order, saying it is neither a court nor a competent authority to exercise plenary jurisdiction and the order is "arbitrary and illegal."
Counsel for Congress K C Mittal today told a full bench of the Commission, which is hearing the complaint against political parties for not responding to RTI applications seeking details of the donations received by them, elections and other related issues, that an application has been moved to quash its order bringing political parties under the RTI Act.
"...It has been held that CIC is neither a court nor is competent to exercise plenary jurisdiction. There is no power even to decide upon its jurisdiction or interpret the provisions of the act and the definitions," the plea filed by Congress treasurer Motilal Vora on June 17 said.
The party, whose government opened a new chapter of transparency by enacting Right to Information in 2005, said as per Section 12 of the RTI Act, the Chief Information Commissioner has only limited powers of superintendence, directions and management of internal affairs of the Central Information Commission.
"It is further submitted that the powers conferred on the Commission are defined under Chapter V of the Act which no where gives the adjudicatory powers," it said.
The plea said applicant (Association for Democratic Reforms and SC Agrawal) failed to substantiate their case and in the absence of any documents/evidence on record to show that the political parties are substantially financed by the Government, declaring political parties as substantially financed by the Government is "arbitrary and illegal"
"The order...Is based on surmise and conjecture. The order is without jurisdiction and has no sanction of law, therefore it is per se nullity and unenforceable," it said.
The petition said political parties have income from voluntary contributions from their members, individuals or companies.
"The exemptions, concessions given under a statute neither constitute financing a political party nor it amounts to financial contribution by a Government. Such concession and exemptions are allowed to large number of individuals, persons, bodies, organisations (but) they have not been brought under the RTI Act," it said.
A full bench of the Commission headed by the then Chief Information Commissioner Satyananda Mishra had on June 03, 2013 brought six national parties--Congress, BJP, NCP, BSP, CPI and CPM--under the ambit of RTI on the premise that they are substantially funded by the Government in the form of subsidies, cheap land for offices, and tax concessions.
The order has neither been stayed nor set aside by any of the high courts or the Supreme Court.
The plea said political parties do not get any funding from the Government.
Congress said Representation of People Act provides for adequate transparency regarding finances of a political party.
"Declaring a political party as public authority under the RTI Act would hamper its smooth internal working, which is not the objective of the RTI Act and was not envisaged by the Parliament under the RTI Act. Futher, the political rivals may maliciously file a large number of applications under the RTI Act...Thereby adversely affecting the political functioning of the political parties," it said.
The party said it was felt necessary to annul the adverse effects of the "erroneous conclusion" by the CIC that political parties are public authorities.
It said the exemption granted to political parties under the Income Tax Act cannot be construed their being substantially financed by the Government.
"The Commission has exceeded its power and jurisdiction to assume an authority which commission does not possess under the RTI Act," it said.
The party cited a Supreme Court order to buttress its point that Congress is not substantially financed by the Government which has no specific control over its management and affairs.
Citing Supreme Court case of Thalappalam service co-operative bank vs State of Kerala, Congress said perusal of the judgment will show that political parties do not fall within the definition of "Public Authority."
However, Information Commissioner Sridhar Acharyulu during the hearing today in the complaint case against the Congress observed that the question of political parties being brought under RTI Act has reached finality with the full bench order of June 03, 2013 which cannot be reopened.
It is to be noted that that the bench of Sridhar Acharyulu is not hearing the petition of the Congress.
The party said the June 03, 2013 order of the Commission has "no substance in law" and is "non-est" (does not exist).
Congress cited CIC order of July 8, 2009 which said political parties were not public authorities under the RTI Act which was set aside by the full bench on June 03,2013.
"It is stated that the full bench of the Commission is neither the appellate authority against the order passed by CIC nor is competent authority to set aside the order dated July 8, 2009. The Commission is not a Government and functions within RTI Act and there is no provision under the Act to set aside the order of Commission by the Commission," it said.
It said every order whether passed by a single Information Commissioner, division bench or full Bench is the order of Commission, passed under the Act.
"Thus the order dated July 8, 2009, having been passed by single nench by Chief Information Commissioner is the order of the Commission under the Act. It attained finality. It is an admitted position that the full bench is not an appellate/ reviewing authority against the order passed by the Commission," it said.