Political parties under RTI lens

The CIC, a quasi-judicial body, has said that the Congress, BJP, NCP, CPI-M, CPI and BSP have been substantially funded indirectly by the Central Govt and they have the character of a public authority under the RTI Act as they perform public functions.

New Delhi : In a landmark ruling to ensure transparency in the functioning of political parties, the Central Information Commission (CIC) on Monday held that the parties are public authorities and answerable to citizens under the 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 a public authority under the RTI Act as they perform public functions.

Political parties under RTI lens

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”.

I-T EXEMPTIONS

BJP                 Rs 141.25 crore

Cong              Rs 300.92 crore

BSP                Rs 39.84 crore

CPI-M          Rs 18.13 crore,

CPI                Rs 24 lakh

NCP              Rs 9.64 crore

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”.

 Under Section 2(h)(d) of the RTI Act, public authority can be a body established by notification issued or made by the appropriate government and includes any (i) body owned, controlled or substantially financed (ii) non-government organisation substantially financed, directly or indirectly by funds provided by the appropriate Government. “If not strictly within the letter of this particular provision (d), but at least, in spirit, these political parties can be said to have been constituted by their registration by the Election Commission of India, a fact akin to the establishment or constitution of a body or institution by an appropriate government,” the Commission held.

In an attempt to establish direct and indirect funding by the Government, the CIC wrote to Directorate of Estate to know that land and buildings allotted to political parties in the national capital, which showed huge tracts of lands given to political parties at subsidized rates. “We strongly believe that the premium and the lease rent being charged from the political parties do not reflect the true value of these properties. This, in our considered opinion, amounts to indirect financing and when added to the income tax exemption enjoyed by these political parties, it would amount to substantial financing,” it said. The Commission also took into account I-T exemptions given to political parties and found that during last three years BJP got Rs 141.25 crore, Congress got Rs 300.92 crore, BSP got Rs 39.84 crore, CPI-M got Rs 18.13 crore, CPI got Rs 24 lakh and NCP got Rs 9.64 crore as I-T exemption.

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