New Delhi

Civil society groups today threatened to move court if the RTI Act amendment bill, which seeks to keep political parties outside the ambit of the transparency law, is passed by Parliament.

Terming the exclusion of political parties from the Act as "unconstitutional", the civil society groups have also rejected the nod to the amendment by the parliamentary committee entrusted with the task of reviewing the proposed amendment.

"We are hoping that Parliament will reject the report. It is an appeal we are making. If it is not rejected and the RTI Act is amended, we will challenge that amendment in court and we are 100 per cent certain that the court will strike it down," Jagdeep Chhokar, one of the founder members of Association of Democratic Reforms (ADR), told reporters.

On June 3, 2013, the Central Information Commission (CIC) pronounced that political parties -- Congress, BJP, CPM, CPI, NCP and BSP -- are public authorities under section 2(h) of the RTI Act.

The government brought an amendment to the RTI Act excluding political parties from its ambit. However, due to mounting public pressure, Parliament chose to refer the Bill to a Parliamentary Committee, which invited suggestions on the proposed amendment to the RTI Act and approved it.

ADR was among the organisations which made submissions to the panel.

"The committee has not given any logical reasoning for its recommendation in its report. Excluding political parties from RTI Act is unconstitutional. It is odd to argue that transparency is good for all state organs but not for political parties, which in reality control all the vital organs of the state," Chhokar said.

He went on to add that civil society wants that political parties remain under the ambit of RTI and there is transparency.

"There is no justification given by the standing committee..It has merely said that it has reached this decision. Had they given justification, there would have been an argument," Chhokar added.

Officials from other organisations said that the standing committee did not appear to have taken into account objections to the RTI amendment submitted by civil society organisations.

On government's claim that there were provisions in the Representation of People Act 1951 as well as Income Tax Act 1961 which deal with transparency in financial aspects of parties and their candidates, ADR officials said that a substantial of those sums cannot be traced.

"An ADR analysis of Income Tax returns of six national political parties and the statements filed by them with the Election Commission shows that over 75 per cent of the funds cannot be traced and are from unknown sources," officials said.

Questioning the committee's approval to the Bill, Anjali Bharadwaj of National Campaign for People's Right to Information (NCPRI) said there was no rationale for people who made the law to keep themselves out of its ambit.

On the other hand, Subhash Agarwal, RTI activist, pointed out that the report of the committee recommending that CIC verdict on political parties being covered by RTI Act is not justified because according to the panel it was not the intent of legislature to cover political parties under the transparency act.

"There are many bodies claiming they are not covered under RTI Act but are declared public authorities by Information Commissions and even endorsed by high courts as public authorities. None of such bodies were intended specially by the legislature to be covered under RTI Act.

"Surprisingly the committee has overruled the Attorney General's advice that any legislative step against CIC verdict may be stuck down by courts," Agarwal added.

Officials said that the Parliament committee observed that none of the six political parties, who happened to be respondent to CIC Order of June 3 this year, has challenged the order in the higher judiciary which is a case of "misrepresentation of a clear provision of law".

"However, the correct and the established practice for a party aggrieved by a decision made by the CIC, is to go to the High Court to challenge the CIC's decision. If this is a case of 'misrepresentation of a clear provision of law' there is no necessity of an amendment of the law," they argued.

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