In a significant order upholding the interests of transparency in political funding, the Central Information Commission has directed the Central Government to divulge information regarding the identities of persons and entities who had sought anonymity while making donations to political parties.

The application filed by RTI activist Venkatesh Nayak had sought information pertaining to the total number of representations received by the Central Government from donors regarding the need for maintaining confidentiality of their identity while making donations to political parties, including copies of such representations and the electoral bonds.

He had also sought for the draft 'Electoral Bond Scheme' prepared by the Department of Financial Services in consultation with Reserve Bank of India and Election Commission of India.

CIC Suresh Chandra expressed dissatisfaction at the manner in which Central Public Information Officers of the Department of Economic Affairs, Department of Financial Services, Department of Revenue and the Election Commission of India handled the RTI application by lobbing the application amongst each other, and asked them to show cause for not imposing penalty under the RTI Act.

Nayak had moved the CIC, alleging that the Respondents only tried to shift the liability on one-another and that the replies given by them were false and misleading.

After hearing the parties, Information Commissioner, Suresh Chandra directed the DEA to co-ordinate with the Department of Financial Services and the Election Commission to provide a consolidated reply to the Appellant within four weeks.

The CIC also noted that the reply given by RBI was not satisfactory and directed its CPIO to give a proper reply by revisiting the application.

The order stated :

"The Commission after adverting to the facts and circumstances of the case, hearing all the parties and perusal of records, notes that reply given by the respondent no. (2) i.e. Reserve Bank of India is incomplete. Hence, the CPIO, RBI is directed to be more cautious while giving the reply/information to the RTIs. Further he is directed to revisit the RTI application and give a self-explanatory reply/information to the appellant as per the provisions of the RTI Act, within two weeks from the date of receipt of this order.

The Commission further notes that submissions/reply given by the respondent no. (1) i.e. Department of Economic Affairs and respondent no. (3) i.e. Election Commission of India are vague and misleading. It is pertinent to mention that in the earlier order dated 01.10.2019, the Commission directed the CPIO, Department of Economic Affairs to coordinate and consolidate the information and furnish the same to the appellant. However, CPIO, Department of Economic Affairs had failed to do so and not discharged his responsibility with true spirit. During the course of hearing, it was observed that the CPIO of D/o Economic Affairs could not get the complete information from the concerned CPIOs, hence, he could not provide the information to the appellant.

In view of this, the Registry of this Commission is directed to issue show cause notice to CPIOs of Department of Economic Affairs, Department of Financial Services, Department of Revenue, Election Commission of India as deemed CPIOs to show cause as to why a penalty under Section 20(1) may not be imposed on each of them for not providing the information to the appellant within the stipulated period of 30 days".

Calling Electoral Bonds an obscure funding system which is unchecked by any authority, the CPI (M) and NGOs Common Cause and Association for Democratic Reforms had moved the Supreme Court last year, seeking transparency in the scheme. Subsequently, the Supreme Court had asked all the political parties to furnish the information relating to the donations received by them by way of Electoral Bonds, including the identity of the donors, amounts received, details of payments, bank accounts etc. to the Election Commission in sealed covers.

During last week of November, a series of investigative reports were published, which indicated that the Central Government had ignored serious concerns raised by Reserve Bank of India and Election Commission of India against anonymous electoral bonds. Based on these reports, ADR moved an application for stay of Electoral Bonds scheme. The Court has now agreed to consider the matter in January.

Case Details:
Case Title: Venkatesh Nayak v. CPIO-1: Department Of Economic Affairs & Ors.
Case No.: SA No. CIC/RBIND/A/2018/102730
Quorum: Suresh Chandra (IC)

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