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Activists to move court if Parliament approves changes in RTI Act

Activists promoting Right to Information (RTI) Act said they will move court if Parliament gives its nod to amendments aimed at providing immunity to political parties from providing information.

New Delhi: Activists working to promote Right to Information (RTI) Act on Monday said they will move court if Parliament gives its nod to amendments in the transparency law aimed at providing immunity to political parties from providing information.
A bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha today to keep political parties out of the ambit of the RTI Act and negate a Central Information Commission (CIC) order to this effect.

"Many activists and NGOs working for the RTI Act will move court if Parliament gives nod to the proposed amendments," said Venkatesh Nayak, Coordinator (of Access to Information Programme), Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI).

At first glance, the amendment Bill only seeks to exclude political parties from the purview of the RTI Act and will have retrospective effect if enacted in this form. "So it effectively nullifies the CIC`s order of June 2013 declaring six political parties--BJP, BSP, NCP, CPI and CPI-M--as public authorities," he said.

A preliminary analysis indicates that the amendment suggested in the Bill violates the right to equality and equal treatment to all persons guaranteed by the Constitution under Article 14. It seeks to treat political parties as a separate category from other substantially-financed non-governmental organisations, Nayak contended.

The Supreme Court and the High Courts have frowned upon laws that are made specifically to nullify the decisions of courts having a retrospective effect, Nayak said, adding that the language of the Bill gives enough ammunition to challenge it in courts as well as in the public domain.

Another activist Vivek Garg alleged the government was trying to block transparency in governance by making changes in RTI Act.

"It is an attempt to hamper citizens` right to know. The
government is trying to block transparency in the system from the proposed amendments," Garg said.

The Statement of Objects and Reasons of the Bill, introduced by Minister of State for Personnel V Narayanasamy, states that "the government considers that the CIC has made a liberal interpretation of Section 2 (h) of the said (RTI) Act in its decision".

It points that there are already provisions in the RP Act as well as the Income Tax Act which deal with transparency in the financial aspects of political parties and their candidates.

"Declaring a political party as public authority under the RTI Act would hamper its smooth internal working...Further, the political rivals may misuse the provisions of RTI Act, thereby adversely affecting the functioning of the political parties," the Bill reads.


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