7 PM | Making political parties accountable | 5th October, 2019

Context: The recent judgment in D.A.V. College Trust and Management Society Vs. Director of Public Instructions and how an analogy can be drawn in favor of declaring political parties as ‘public authority’ under the RTI Act.

More in news: Recently, the Supreme Court in D.A.V. College Trust and Management Society Vs. Director of Public Instructions held that non-governmental organizations which were substantially financed by the appropriate government fall within the ambit of ‘public authority’ under Section 2(h) of the Right to Information Act, 2005.

Right to Information Act, 2005:

  • Under the RTI Act, 2005, Public Authorities are required to make disclosures on various aspects of their structure and functioning. 
  • The functions are:
    • disclosure on their organization, functions, and structure
    • powers and duties of its officers and employees
    • Financial information. 
  • The intent of such suo moto disclosures is that the public should need minimum recourse through the Act to obtain such information. 
  • If such information is not made available, citizens have the right to request for it from the Authorities. 
  • This may include information in the form of documents, files, or electronic records under the control of the Public Authority. 
  • The intent behind the enactment of the Act is to promote transparency and accountability in the working of Public Authorities.  

Who is included in the ambit of ‘Public Authorities’?

  • ‘Public Authorities’ include bodies of self-government established under the Constitution, or under any law or government notification.  For instance, these include Ministries, public sector undertakings, and regulators. 
  • It also includes any entities owned, controlled or substantially financed and non-government organizations substantially financed directly or indirectly by funds provided by the government. 

D.A.V. College Trust and Management Society Vs. Director of Public Instructions:

  • The case: The bench was dealing with an issue on whether NGOs substantially financed by the government fall within the ambit of ‘public authority’ under provisions of the Right to Information Act, 2005.
  • Substantial financing: The term ‘Substantially financed’ is not defined in the RTI Act. When a term is not defined in an Act, the normal rule is to find the definition of the term in a relatable statute or legislation and apply the same. The definition is given in Section 14(1) of CAG Act-1971 for the term substantially financed.
    • Dealing with the “substantial financing” aspect, the bench said it does not necessarily have to mean a major portion or more than 50% and no hard and fast rule can be laid down in this regard.
    • Substantial financing can be either direct or indirect. To give an example, if a land in a city is given free of cost or on heavy discount to hospitals, educational institutions or such other body, this in itself could also be substantial financing. The very establishment of such an institution, if it is dependent on the largesse of the State in getting the land at a cheap price, would mean that it is substantially financed.
  • The court resorted to ‘purposive’ interpretation of the provisions by underscoring the need to focus on the larger objective of percolation of benefits of the statute to the masses.
Purposive approach: The purposive approach sometimes referred to as purposive construction, purposive interpretation, or the “modern principle in construction” is an approach to statutory and constitutional interpretation under which common law courts interpret an enactment (that is, a statute, a part of a statute, or a clause of a constitution) in light of the purpose for which it was enacted.  

Political Parties in India:

Political parties are voluntary associations or organized groups of individuals who share the same political views and who try to gain political power through constitutional means and who desire to work for promoting the national interest.

There are four types of political parties in the modern democratic states:

  1. reactionary parties which cling to the old socio-economic and political institutions
  2. conservative parties which believe in the status-quo
  3. liberal parties which aim at reforming the existing institutions
  4. radical parties which aim at establishing a new order by overthrowing the existing institutions.

A public interest litigation (PIL) filed recently in 2019 seeks political parties to be declared as ‘public authority’ under the Right to Information Act, 2005, (RTI).

Should political parties be brought under RTI?

Yes:

  • All the matters relating to finance and administration except for the political strategy needs to be made available to public because political parties are public institutions, receiving money from public.
  • In India, it is widely accepted notion that fountain head of the corruption is political funding. Almost all political parties have got very valuable plots allotted by the Government at prime places in New Delhi and in their respective capital cities. It is therefore, necessary to introduce internal democracy, financial transparency and accountability in the working of the political parties.
  • Electoral Bonds are not promoting transparency in political funding as donors remain anonymous to public. Infact, not only funding but expenditure made by political parties, especially during the time of elections should be made public.
  • Under Section 29A of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 all political parties must affirm their allegiance to the Constitution of India and such allegiance is made compulsory for the purpose of registration under sub-section (7) of Section 29A. Therefore, political parties so registered must furnish information to the public under the right of information under Article 19(1) (a) of the Constitution of India, since right of information has been held to be a part of freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a).
  • Political Parties are already under the RTI Act as they have not challenged the Central Information Commission’s verdict of 3rd June 2013 (Political Parties are public authorities under Section 2(h) of the RTI Act); though they have also not complied with the order yet.
  • The Law Commission of India in its 170th Report on ‘Reform of the Electoral Laws’ in May 1999 had recommended transparency in the functioning of political parties.
  • RTI act is a very balanced act. There is a section 8(1) in the act that has ten exemptions within it. If a political party comes under the ambit of RTI act, then this section will safeguard them from disclosing all types of information.

No:

  • Political parties were not established by the constitution or an act of parliament and therefore should not be under the RTI. They are formed under Representation of People Act, which is not the same as being created by the parliament.
  • Political Parties have apprehension that disclosure of information under RTI act may give advantage to their competitors.
  • Political parties do not want to disclose their internal working as well as their decision making system.
  • There are already provisions in the Income Tax Act, 1961, and Representation of the People Act, 1951, which demand necessary transparency regarding financial aspects of political parties. These mechanisms ensure transparency in financial dealings of parties.
  • Information about a political body is already in the public domain on the website of the Election Commission.

Conclusion: Political parties are indispensable for the working of modern democratic governments. The importance of Political parties lies in the fact that democracies cannot function without the existence of political parties. It makes the working of parliamentary government possible. A parliament consists of the representatives of the people. The Law Commission opines that political parties are the lifeblood of our entire constitutional system. Political parties act as a conduit through which interests and issues of the people get represented in Parliament. Bringing the political parties under RTI will ensure transparency and thereby imbibing accountability in the political structure of Indian democracy.

Source: https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/making-political-parties-accountable/article29587748.ece

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