New Delhi: In a landmark ruling to ensure transparency in the functioning of political parties, the Central Information Commission today held that the parties are public authorities and answerable to citizens under RTI Act.
The Commission, a quasi-judicial body, has 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 will be answerable to the citizens regarding their source of funding, how they spend money and choice of candidates for elections, among other issues.
The CIC has directed the parties to appoint Public Information Officers within six weeks to respond to RTI queries and adhere to all the legal provisions.
"In view of the nature of public functions performed by political parties...we conclude that political parties in question are public authorities under section 2(h) of the RTI Act," the Bench, comprising Chief Information Commissioner Satyanand Mishra and Information Commissioners Annapurna Dixit and M L Sharma, said.
The Commission held that political parties have the character as public authorities and "we hold that INC, BJP, CPIM, CPI, NCP and BSP have been substantially financed by the central government under section 2(h)(ii) of the RTI Act".
The Bench held the income tax exemptions granted to the parties and free air time given by All India Radio and Doordarshan at the time of elections also substantially contribute to indirect financing from the government.
"We have no hesitation in concluding that INC/AICC, BJP, CPI-M, CPI, NCP and BSP have been substantially financed by the central government and therefore they are held to be public authorities under Section 2(h) of the RTI Act," the Bench ordered.
On the performing of public duty point raised by Bairwal, the CIC held that political parties "affect the lives of the citizens, directly or indirectly in every conceivable way and are continuously engaged in performing public duty. It is, therefore, important that they become accountable to public."
"Political parties are the unique institution of the modern constitutional State. These are essentially political institution and are non-governmental. The uniqueness lies in the fact that inspite of being non-governmental, they come to weild or directly and indirectly influence exercise of governmental power.
"It would be odd to argue that transparency is good for all state organs but not so good for political parties, which, in reality, control all the vital organs of the State," the Bench held.
Citing a Supreme Court order where it held that people of India must know the source of expenditure incurred by political parties during elections, the CIC said these judicial pronouncements unmistakably command progressively higher level of transparency in the functioning of political parties in general and their funding altogether.
"In view of the nature of public functions performed by political parties...we conclude that political parties in question are public authorities under section 2(h) of the RTI Act," the Bench held.
On the third point of Constitutional provisions vesting political Parties with rights and liabilities, the CIC said political parties come into existence only after registering with the Election Commission which awards symbols under given legal provisions.
"ECI is vested with the superintendence, direction and control of elections under Article 324 of the Constitution. ECI is also vested with the authorities to suspend or withdraw recognition of a political party in certain contingencies," the CIC said.
It said political parties can recommend disqualification of members of the House in certain contingencies under the Tenth Schedule.
"The contention is that the aforesaid constitution/statutory powers of political parties bring them in the ambit of Section 2(h) of the RTI Act. We find the above submission quite compelling and unerringly pointing towards their character as public authority," it said.
During the hearings which were spread over last eight months, all the six political parties opposed the contentions of RTI applicants--Bairwal and Agrawal.
"We hold that INC, BJP, CPIM, CPI, NCP and BSP have been been substantially financed by the central government under section 2(h)(ii) of the RTI Act", it said.