The Statesman
New Delhi

NEW DELHI, 4 JUNE: Welcoming yesterday's ruling of the Central Information Commission (CIC) holding political parties answerable under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, RTI activists today said it will augur well for the political system as it will bring transparency and urged parties not to oppose the ruling.

RTI activist Subhash Chandra Aggarwal, who had lodged a complaint with the CIC over political parties refusing to acknowledge RTI applications, expressed regret that a few political parties are against this ruling. “The parties have started spreading a myth that after the Election Commission, they will now have to be answerable to the CIC. But it is wrong. The parties will have to be answerable to the public.”

Mr Aggarwal in his RTI application to the Congress and the BJP had demanded to know about the promises that were made by them in earlier manifestoes and those that were fulfilled, in addition to other things. At the same time, Mr Anil Bairwal of Association of Democratic Reforms (ADR) had demanded to know the ten maximum voluntary contributions made by the six national parties from 2004 to 2009. The parties told the RTI applicants that they do not come under the purview of the RTI Act. The activists are now hopeful that people will be able to access this information after the CIC ruling.

Emphasising that the ruling will allow the common man to know about the sources and the amount of funding, Mr Bairwal said that there is a lack of transparency at present in the funding of the political parties. A large source of funding for the Congress as per a disclosure through the RTI has been through ‘sale of coupons’. This has been questioned by the ADR for its dubiousness.

“After being brought under the purview of the RTI Act, the political parties will have to give details of every single rupee of donations. It cannot take advantage of the Representation of People’s Act 1951, which says that only donations of Rs 20,000 will have to be reported to the Election Commission. If the funds of a party are being used for private use, this can be brought to light through the use of the RTI Act,” said Mr Bairwal. He felt political party workers will also benefit from the ruling. “Party workers can know through RTI the criteria by which tickets were distributed by the parties,” he added.

 The ADR pointed out that there is indirect state funding for the parties through income tax exemptions. “At present under Section 13 (a) of the Income Tax Act, the parties get 100 per cent exemption from income tax on donations.

A number of corporate houses have given a donation of Rs 10 crore to the prominent political parties. That means a tax of Rs 3.9 crore or 30.9 per cent has been forgone for the political party for a donation of Rs 10 crore,” said former income tax commissioner, Ashok Kumar Aneja who has analysed the income tax returns of political parties for ADR.

With apprehensions that the political parties may contest the decision of CIC in a court of law, the ADR filed a caveat today before the High Court which restrains it from giving an  ex-parte stay to parties on the decision of the CIC. “This means, the High Court will have to give ADR an opportunity to represent itself when the political parties approach it for a stay,” said founder member of ADR, Mr Jagdeep Chhokar.

Mr Aggarwal said in order to avoid unnecessary RTI applications, the political parties should make comprehensive voluntary disclosures as stipulated under Section 4(1)(b) of the RTI Act. Mr Aggarwal said compliance with this clause has been tardy till now.

Upbeat over the CIC ruling, ADR has also begun the process through which other parties can also be brought under the RTI Act.

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