In a blow to transparency in political parties, the Central Information Commission Tuesday said it cannot penalise parties for failure to implement the information watchdog’s order bringing them under the ambit of the Right To Information (RTI) Act. The reason: the parties have not appointed the Central Information Officers against whom any action can be taken.
In an order winding up its inquiry on failure of six national political parties to comply with its June 2013 order, the commission said penalties cannot be imposed on any leader or member of a party as they were not government servants. The CIC said that the failure to comply with the order has not resulted in any demonstrable loss to the complainants. It also asked the Department of Personnel and Training to fill in legal gaps.
The order, given on a complaint of RTI activist Subhash Agrawal and the Association of Democratic Reforms, was issued by a bench of three former bureaucrats, Vijai Sharma, Manjula Parashar and Sharat Sabharwal, who have also applied for the position of the Chief Information Commissioner. The commission said the legal position was that imposition of penalty and award of compensation cannot be considered. Other bodies may refuse to abide by the CIC directive citing this order, Aggarwal said.
“It is true that CIC has limited powers but it can always approach a court to get its orders enforced,” said former Chief Information Commissioner AN Tiwari. India’s first chief information commissioner Wajahat Habibullah agreed with him.
Venkatesh Nayak of Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative said that in 2009 the CIC had faced similar situation where the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) refused to comply with its order. The CIC issued a notice asking why it should not launch criminal against the department secretary, he said, adding, “Strangely, the CIC does not seem to have adopted such a course of action in this case”.
“Even Presidents/Secretaries of political parties could be taken as deemed CPIOs in absence of appointment of CPIOs by defaulting parties,” Agrawal said.