Most political parties — specially the smaller, regional ones with national ambitions — want to keep their coffers away from public scrutiny. They have persistently refused to declare their source of funds.
The honorable exceptions are the biggies — the Congress, BJP, CPI and the CPM — and 11 lesser-known outfits. They have been giving the Election Commission details of donations and contributions received by them.
But here are the rank no-shows: Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar’s NCP, Railways Minister Lalu Yadav’s RJD, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati’s BSP, and Parkash Singh Badal’s Shiromani Akali Dal.
“It’s true that most political parties don’t submit their annual report on donations,” S.Y. Quraishi, one of the three election commissioners of India, told the Hindustan Times. “But we can’t take action against political parties not furnishing details of their funding as there is no penal provision in the law.”
The Central Information Commission ruled on Wednesday that party accounts filed with the Income Tax department can be accessed by the public under Right to Information provisions.
They are already required to declare their source of funding — contributions and donations — by a provision of the Representation of People’s Act 1951, the law governing elections.
This law was amended in 2003 to allow political parties — under Section 29(B) of the Act — to accept donations from private individuals and companies (barring those owned by the government).
Section 29(C) of the same Act made it compulsory for parties to give the Election Commission every year a list of contributions and donations — upwards of Rs 20,000 — received from individuals and companies.
But there is nothing in the law to force the parties to fall in line — no punishment, no penalty or fines. And it’s the lack of a coercive mechanism, according to Quraishi, that enables parties to brazen it out.
Of the 50 recognised and 900 unrecognised but registered political parties in the country, only 15 political parties filed their annual report to the ECI in 2005-06 and — one less — 14 in 2006-07.
But, let it be said, not all smaller parties have been similarly recalcitrant. Former Union minister Sharad Yadav’s Janata Dal (United), Chandrababu Naidu’s TDP, the Thackerays’ Shiv Sena and Jayalalithaa’s AIADMK have been filing disclosure statements with the election commission. The rest have just not bothered. The commission can’t punish them, so why bother?
Also, officials say there was no provision requiring or enabling the commission to look into the veracity of the disclosures made by the parties.
The Congress’s disclosure for 2005-06 was Rs 5.96 crore and Rs 3.61 crore by the BJP. Is that all they received in a year?
Tomorrow: How fraudulent political parties misuse law