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HindustanTimes Fri,21 Nov 2014

Govt 'move' against CIC ruling not legally sound

Aloke Tikku, Hindustan Times  New Delhi, June 29, 2013
First Published: 10:37 IST(29/6/2013) | Last Updated: 23:52 IST(29/6/2013)

This time any government’s move to amend the Right to Information Act may succeed as no political party likes to be under the Central Information Commission scrutiny.

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Even the legal experts have concluded that an appeal against the Central Information Commission’s verdict covering political parties would not withstand judicial scrutiny.

If the UPA’s plan to promulgate an ordinance comes through, this will be the first amendment to the right to information law.

The previous attempts to knock down a few teeth of the transparency law had to be aborted under pressure from the Sonia Gandhi-led National Advisory Council and lack of consensus within political parties.

This time could be different. The Central Information Commission’s decision holding that political parties were covered under RTI due to concessions received from state, however, has made all parties uncomfortable.

Sources said the proposal to promulgate an ordinance was a departure from the initial stand of the government that political parties should challenge the CIC decision if they felt it was incorrect.

But when legal experts scrutinised the CIC decision, they came around to the point that it would be far too risky. The political parties were on a weak wicket.

Several decisions of the CIC that ruled private bodies – which were classified as public bodies under this law since they received concessional land from the government – have been upheld by the courts.

“There is no provision in the RTI Act that would have distinguished between a political party and a hospital or a club,” a government source said.

Under the proposed amendments, the source said an explanatory note would be added in the definition of public authority to explicitly clarify that a political party was not a public authority.

Former information commissioner Shailesh Gandhi said the proposed ordinance was a retrograde step.

“What is the emergency,” he said, wondering why the political parties weren’t challenging the CIC decision if it was so wrong.

But at a time when citizens’ rights are moving forward the world over, it is unfortunate that the government is planning to introduce restrictions

Information and broadcasting minister Manish Tewari said “the intent of RTI Act was not to cover political parties. Else, it should have been explicitly stated”.

Congress spokesperson Bhakta Charan Das said the government was not diluting the transparency law but certain aspects were under discussion.


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