National Election Watch (NEW) and Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), volunteer organisations working for election reforms in the country, said in a press release here on Wednesday that the amendment to the Right to Information (RTI) Act by the Parliament to keep political parties outside its ambit has been approved despite much opposition from civil society organisations and citizens.
A spokesperson for the ADR said that in a landmark decision on June 3, the Central Information Commission (CIC) pronounced that the political parties were public authorities under Section 2(h) of the RTI Act, but the central government brought an amendment to the RTI Act excluding political parties from its ambit.
The spokesperson said that due to mounting public pressure, the Parliament chose to refer the Bill to the Parliamentary Committee, which invited suggestions on the proposed amendment to the RTI Act and the ADR was one of the organisations which strongly objected to the amendment.
Reacting over the Parliamentary Committee's nod to the amendment, ADR founder member and trustee Jagdeep Chhokar said that the committee had not given any logical reasoning for its recommendation in its report and excluding political parties from RTI Act was "unconstitutional". "It is odd to argue that transparency is good for all state organs but not for political parties, which in reality control the vital organs of the state," he said.
The ADR said that while justifying its decision to amend the Bill, the Government had said that the political parties were neither established nor constituted by or under the Constitution or by any other law made by Parliament, and declaring a political party as public authority under the RTI Act would hamper its internal working and the political rivals may even misuse the provisions of Act.
Whereas, the ADR said that according to Section 2(h) of the RTI Act, an organisation that is 'substantially financed, directly or indirectly by funds provided by the appropriate government' can also fall under the category of public authority.
"An analysis by the ADR of the income tax returns for six national political parties and the statements filed by them with the election commission show that over 75% of the funds cannot be traced and the RTI Act could help bring in transparency to the democratic set up of the country. The Parliamentary Committee should have considered civil society's views prior to granting approval to the Bill," said a spokesperson for the ADR.
Meanwhile, Change, a volunteer organisation has said that the RTI amendment "threatens to slaughter our democracy" and urged Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi to "tear up the RTI (Amendment) Bill, just as he (Gandhi) did with the Criminal MPs ordinance".