Cabinet clears proposal to keep political parties out of RTI

Cabinet on Thursday cleared the RTI Amendment Act and proposed that political parties should be kept out of its ambit.

Zee Media Bureau

New Delhi: In a significant development, the Cabinet on Thursday cleared the RTI Amendment Act and proposed that political parties should be kept out of its ambit.

The decision to amend the RTI Act was taken during a Cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh here, official sources said.

The amendments state that declaring political parties as public authorities under the RTI would "hamper their smooth internal functioning since it will encourage political rivals to file RTI applications with malicious intentions".

They maintain that the Representation of the People Act and the Income Tax Act provide sufficient transparency regarding financial aspects of political parties, it is learnt.

Under Section 2 of the RTI Act, the definition of public authority in the proposed amendment will make it clear that "it shall not include any political party registered under the Representation of the Peoples Act", the sources said.

As proposed earlier, political parties may not be added in the list of organisations (Section 8) exempted from parting information under the information act.

During the Cabinet meeting, some members including Petroleum and Natural Gas minister Veerapa Moily were of the opinion that the people should know that amending the law was not an unilateral move by the government but was based on consensus among all political parties, they said.

The Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT), which acts as nodal department for the implementation of the RTI Act, in consultation with Law Ministry decided to amend the law.

The government will have to introduce a Bill in this regard in the monsoon session of Parliament beginning Monday, they said.

The Centre`s flagship Right to Information Act empowers a citizen to seek time-bound information on all matters of governance by paying a fee of Rs 10.

The Cabinet also gave post-facto approval to official amendments in Whistle-blowers Protection Bill, which seeks to keep information that could compromise strategic and economic interests and impact foreign relations out of the ambit of the proposed law, aimed at protection of whistle-blowers from harassment.

In a landmark ruling to ensure transparency in the functioning of political parties, the Central Information Commission on June 03 had held that the parties are public authorities and answerable to citizens under RTI Act.

The commission, a quasi-judicial body, had said six national parties Congress, BJP, NCP, CPI-M, CPI and BSP have been substantially funded indirectly by the central government and they have the character of public authority under the RTI Act as they perform public functions.

After the order of the full bench of CIC, the parties would have been answerable to the citizens regarding their source of funding, how they spend money and choice of candidates for elections, among other issues.

The CIC had also directed the parties to appoint Public Information Officers to respond to RTI queries and adhere to all the legal provisions.

The commission had based its decision on three important points raised by complainants -- substantial funding received by the parties from government, performance of public duty by them and legal provisions vesting them with rights and liabilities.

The commission had said that since no income tax was paid by the parties, the exact quantum of rebate could not be quantified since income of all these political parties would place them in the highest slab of income tax, at least 30 per cent of their total income would have been collected as income tax but for the total exemption given to them by law.

The CIC order specifically referred to the Congress, BJP, Communist Party of India, CPI (Marxist), Nationalist Congress Party and Bahujan Samaj Party. However, almost all parties, barring a few, vehemently opposed the ruling, accusing the CIC of overstepping its jurisdiction.

With PTI inputs

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