In this article, Shreyan Acharya talks about the necessity of extending the ambit of the RTI (Right To Information Act, 2005) to political parties.
Being a democracy, leaders in India are elected through free and fair elections by the citizens. We do not believe in aristocracy and follow the principles of freedom and equality. Under the framework of a comprehensive Constitution, various rights can be exercised by the citizens under appropriate statutes such filing of PIL, RTI etc to know the whereabouts and functioning of Public Authorities, as these weapons empower the citizens to check and monitor any arbitrary practice. The Public Exchequer, CAG OR Comptroller and Auditor General of India, keeps proper records of Government spending and the data is released publicly to ensure transparency.
On various occasions, the questions of whether political parties are within the ambit of the Right to Information, whether citizens under RTI reach to the political parties and whether their expenses and earnings are made liable to public scrutiny, whether there is a comprehensive statute to evaluate their funding arise. Till now, the answer to all the above raised issues is in the negative. A view generally propounded by the leaders of these parties is that the political parties do not come within the ambit of ‘Public Authorities’, therefore excluding them from public scrutiny. But in this article, we would like to raise some issues and discuss why these political parties should come within the ambit of RTI.
In 2013, the Central Information Commission (CIC) has categorically announced the political parties as Public Authorities but all the major parties have stubbornly refused to comply with the orders. It is surprising to know that all the six national political parties have distanced themselves from the decision of the CIC. In the every election, whether Lok Sabha or State, all the political parties promise to maintain transparency and accountability. They promise to make India corruption free and ensure all the public money is utilised efficiently. But, the fact cannot be denied that the funding of these parties has also come from the purse of the general public or through the governmental power they possess. If they so desire, to cherish the principles of accountability, then they must first open their pockets for public scrutiny. On many instances, public displeasure and lack trust are witnessed towards the integrity and sincerity of these political parties. The parties must realise that if they want to retain the trust, then they must make themselves more transparent and disclose the sources of their funding. The reason behind bringing the political parties within the ambit of RTI is not only political or legal, but there are social causes attached to it. Funding from foreign countries or companies are usually made for personal benefits and the parties would lean towards their interest once coming into power by ignoring the requirements and fulfilling the promises made to the masses. There is a huge need to keep a check on such unscrupulous funding to safeguard the interest of the poor citizens. But, such monitoring can be possible only when the source of their funding is disclosed and the expenses are open to public scrutiny which is only possible once the parties are under the ambit of RTI. Making their funding public would also benefit citizens by making reasonable decisions while electing their candidates and they would no longer be vulnerable to false promises.
The leaders we elect, act as our representatives and formulate laws that govern us. But, it seems to be very discriminatory and arbitrary if such laws are not applicable to them or their parties. This may push towards the monarchy where the King is above the law. Under a democratic process, no one is above the law as stated under the Constitution of India including the elected representatives. So, if our leaders are not governed by the statute then it cannot be denied that the citizens are vulnerable to exploitation. Many activists have raised these issues and PIL is pending in the court where it is challenged that whether political parties come under the ambit of RTI but the case is yet to be decided. It can only be hoped that the Hon’ Supreme Court of India pass the ruling in the interest of the citizens as this will make political parties under public scrutiny and a check is required to prevent any sort of arbitrary practices.