In the know of things
It is imperative that civil society utilises progressive laws like the RTI more to demand what is our right to know.Updated: May 01, 2008, 22:12 IST
On the face of it, all public functionaries agree that transparency is key to effective governance and that they are all for it. Such bravado, however, goes out of the window when the guns are actually trained on them. So, while last week the executive demanded that the Chief Justice of India should come under the purview of the Right to Information Act (RTI), on Wednesday they were up in arms when the Central Information Commission, the RTI watchdog, said that citizens can now ask for information on the funding of political parties. The trigger for such a heartwarming synergy among the parties was a ruling by the Information Commissioner (IC) AN Tiwari.
On an RTI application seeking income tax (IT) details of political parties, he directed the IT department to provide copies of tax returns and assessment orders of the parties to the applicant. In other words, he made it clear that we, the citizens, can now seek information regarding the funding of parties and how the money is being utilised from the IT department using the Act. As of today, submitting details about ‘donations’ (a politically correct term used by parties to describe money coming from different sources) to the Election Commission is a voluntary requirement. This demand for disclosure is not revolutionary; worldwide, it is an accepted norm.
As expected, all parties, except the Left, have come down heavily on the order. Do we detect double standards on governance and transparency? While the ruling Congress thought that the applicant had mala fide intent, the Opposition BJP felt such disclosures infringe on the privacy of parties. The Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party, NCP and the DMK have supported both these parties. On the very day when the executive was trying hard to deflect the spotlight from itself, this paper carried another report exposing its doublespeak: a House panel has raised questions about the veil of secrecy that shrouds the procedure of appointment of judges. A relevant question to be sure, but we think that the executive should also be open to similar levels of probity on equally important issues like party funding.
However, when it comes to being opaque, the executive and the judiciary are mirror images. Therefore, it is imperative that civil society utilises progressive laws like the RTI more to demand what is our right to know. And, only then will information seep out through the well-controlled sluice gates of the government. After all, we will only get what we deserve; in this case what we demand. And we definitely deserve a few more answers.