The Central Information Commission’s verdict bringing political parties under the ambit of the Right to Information (RTI) Act has implications for both the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) and the Delhi and District Cricket Association (DDCA) and other such bodies which allegedly function in an opaque manner.
The ruling heralds a new era of transparency in the functioning of indirectly public-funded bodies as it clarifies and expands the ambit of Section 2(h) of the RTI Act, 2005, that defines “public authority”.
A “public authority” is obliged to appoint an information officer to dole out information to the public in accordance with provisions of the RTI Act.
The verdict is mainly based on two grounds. First, even if not established under the Constitution or a law made by the Parliament or a state legislature or a government notification, registration of political parties by the Election Commission is akin to their establishment by an appropriate government. Second, political parties are indirectly financed by government in terms of income tax exemptions and land/buildings made available to them. Also, the nature of the powers and functions of a political party under the Constitution and other laws makes it a “public authority”.
The CIC is already seized of a case filed by RTI activist Subhash Chandra Aggarwal against Delhi and District Cricket Association (DDCA) and Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), which have been opposing the idea of being subjected to RTI, contending they are not “public authorities”.
Notwithstanding differences within the union cabinet over the sports code that aims to regulate sports bodies and bring them under RTI, the government has taken a stand in favour of transparency in BCCI’s functioning.
In fact, the sports ministry has told the CIC on affidavit that BCCI is a “public authority” and hence covered under the RTI Act. “The fact that DDCA got land allotted to it on subsidised rate and has government nominees…makes it difficult for it escape from the clutches of the RTI,” says Aggarwal.
As for BCCI, he says, “It’s an umbrella organisation of all state cricket associations, including the Railways which is a government entity. The function discharged by the BCCI is of public nature and the Kerala High Court has already held that office bearers of the state cricket association are public servants.”
A Full Bench of the CIC is due to deliver a verdict on the issue.
Cong mulling changes
Congress is mulling the option of amending the law. Publicly they maintained the top leadership will decide on CIC’s ruling.
But privately, leaders hinted the government may go for an amendment.