Parliamentary panel backs passage of bill to negate CIC order on parties

The CIC order had termed Congress, BJP, BSP, NCP, CPI and CPI-M as political authorities.

New Delhi: A parliamentary panel on Tuesday supported passage of a bill which seeks to keep political parties out of the ambit of the RTI Act and negate a Central Information Commission (CIC) order to that effect under the transparency law.

"The committee considers the proposed amendment is a right step to address the issue once and for all. The committee, therefore, recommends for passing of the bill," the Standing Committee on Law and Personnel said in its report tabled in Parliament.

The Right to Information (Amendment) Bill, 2013, introduced in Lok Sabha in August this year, seeks to insert an explanation in Section 2 of the Act which states that any association or body of individuals registered or recognised as political party under the Representation of the People Act, 1951, will not be considered a public authority.

The CIC order had termed Congress, BJP, BSP, NCP, CPI and CPI-M as political authorities.

Attorney General G E Vahanvati and Law Secretary B A Agarwal were among the top officials who deposed before the committee.

The AG was "apprehensive" that the proposed amendment would not sustain the test of judicial scrutiny as it was "creating a class within a class without having any consideration to the principle of intelligable differntia having reasonable nexus with objective of the Act."

The Law Secretary, on the other hand, was of the view that it was "quite sustainable" since Parliament has legislative competence to override the CIC order.

The panel rejected the views of the AG and said it "subscribes" to the opinion expressed by the Law Secretary.

Nominated Rajya Sabha member Anu Aga, a member of the committee, gave a dissent note on the report, saying she considers political parties to be public authorities because they get substantive financial funding from the government.

"Most importantly if political parties are to play a critical role in improving governance, they themselves must submit to higher standards of transparency and accountability. It is of utmost importance that financing and expenses of parties be completely transparent," she said in her dissent.

Since the CIC order on six major political parties came on June 3, the amended Act will come into force with retrospective effect from June....With a view to removing the adverse effects of the said decision," the bill states, adding that it is necessary to give "retrospective effect" to the proposed amendment.

The statement of objects and reasons of the bill observes 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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