New Delhi

Faced with the worst case of defiance of its orders, the Central Information Commission will rule shortly on action to be taken against political parties which refuse to comply with the Right to Information Act.

Eighteen months after it ruled that six national political parties, which enjoy considerable public funding, should be designated as ‘public authorities’ under the RTI Act, a full bench of the CIC held a hearing on their continued non-compliance on Wednesday.

Yet again, not a single party representative attended the hearing, and none of the parties challenged the June 2013 ruling either.

For two hours on Wednesday evening, petitioners Subhash Agarwal, one of India’s pre-eminent RTI campaigners, and Jagdeep Chhokar, co-founder of the Association for Democratic Reforms, along with other RTI activists, reviewed the evidence on record before the commission and discussed the course of action to be taken.

Mr. Chhokar asked for compensation to the tune of Rs. 44 crore — 5 per cent of the income declared by the parties in the last five years — which the organisation would donate to the Prime Minister’s Relief Fund. Mr. Agarwal called for all subsidies extended to the parties to be immediately discontinued and for the Election Commission to derecognise them.

All the while, no political party representative sat opposite them. The Congress was the only party which had sent a written submission ahead of the hearing.

Spokespersons for neither the ruling BJP nor the Congress could tell The Hindu why their representatives had ignored the hearing.

At the end of the hearing, Information Commissioner Vijai Sharma said the Bench would reserve its order.

For the CIC, this is the first time it is faced with complete and continued defiance of its orders.

“I do not recall a single case in which the CIC’s orders have been so completely defied. Usually aggrieved parties at least go to court to seek a stay,” Shailesh Gandhi, former Central Information Commissioner, told The Hindu, an assessment the petitioners seconded.

“We have asked that notice for penalty compensation be issued immediately. If the political parties do not comply with that, we will see what to do next, but we are determined to fight this to the finish,” Mr. Chhokar said.

The commission can issue summons and even an arrest warrant if its summons are not honoured, Mr. Gandhi said.

“This behaviour is having a potentially catastrophic impact on the reputation of Indian democracy,” Mr. Chhokar noted.

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