The Indian Express
New Delhi

Former National Advisory Committee member Aruna Roy and other activists, who had helped push through the Right to Information Act, have hailed the Central Information Commission's order to bring political parties within the ambit of the transparency law.

The order has ignited a debate between civil society groups that had campaigned for RTI and the Congress: the former claim they had always pushed for the law to cover political parties while the latter maintains it was restricted to government.

"We welcome the decision of the CIC. If you see the first draft of the Act drafted in 1996 by a committee under the chairmanship of P B Sawant, it included all bodies that dealt with public money," Roy told The Indian Express.

Nikhil Dey, a member of the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan, echoed her. "It is a positive decision and should be supported. It will help build a framework of transparency and disclosure for political parties," he said. "When we originally pushed for RTI, we wanted all public bodies, including political parties, NGOs, trade unions, religious institutions to be brought under it; basically all bodies which use public money for public purposes. We were disappointed that it was restricted to the government."

"Financial transparency must be total and complete," Dey argued, though he conceded that some nuanced issues needed to be debated further. Meanwhile, Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh, who was a member of the NAC, said the Congress had envisaged the legislation to cover only central and state governments and panchayats. "I am a votary of transparency and RTI, but the main objective of the Act is getting lost. We are all for transparency in the functioning of political parties but we shouldn't go overboard. The growth of RTI busybodies and so-called RTI activists is very unhealthy. This country cannot be run by RTI activists. Political parties are the lifeline of our democracy and political system."

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