Political parties should not be brought under the ambit of the Right to Information (RTI) Act by terming them ‘public authorities’ as this would not only hamper their smooth functioning but also help political rivals to file pleas with malicious intention to seek information, government told the Supreme Court on Monday.

When the RTI Act was enacted, it was never visualised that political parties would be brought within the ambit of the transparency law, the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) said in an affidavit in the apex court.

‘Provisions already exist’

The affidavit, filed through an Under Secretary, said there were provisions in Representation of the People Act (RPA) 1951 and the Income Tax Act which brought necessary transparency about the financial aspects of a political party.

Are they ‘public authorities’?

The government’s affidavit came in response to a notice issued to it on a plea to declare all national and regional political parties, including the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Congress and Left parties among others, “public authorities” to bring them under the ambit of the RTI Act.

The government maintained that the Central Information Commission (CIC) had made a “very liberal interpretation” of Section 2(h) of the RTI Act, which has led to an “erroneous” conclusion that political parties are public authorities.

“I further submit that during the process of enactment of the RTI Act, it was never visualised or considered to bring the political parties within the ambit of the said Act. If the political parties are held to be public authorities under the RTI Act, it would hamper their smooth internal working,” the affidavit said.

“Further, it is apprehended that political rivals might file RTI applications with malicious intentions to the CPIOs of political parties, thereby, adversely affecting their political functioning,” it said.

“Declaring a political party as public authority under the RTI Act would hamper its smooth internal working which is not the objective of RTI Act and was not envisaged by Parliament under the RTI Act,” it said.

It also said the Election Commission (EC), on its own, placed information provided by political parties under Section 29C of the RPA in public domain through its website.

Lapsed Bill

The Centre also said a bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha to amend the RTI Act so as to exclude political parties from the definition of ‘public authority’ and the bill was referred to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on September 12, 2013. The Standing Committee had recommended passage of the bill by Lok Sabha but it could not be taken up for consideration by the Parliament and with the dissolution of the 15th Lok Sabha, the bill lapsed, it said.

A three-judge bench of the apex court, headed by Chief Justice HL Dattu, had on July 7 sought responses from the Centre, EC and six political parties, including Congress and BJP, on the plea.

Declaration of donations

The Association for Democratic Reforms, an NGO, had also sought a direction that political parties be asked to declare all donations, including those below ₹20,000.

Earlier, the NGO had approached the apex court seeking transparency and accountability in functioning of recognised national and regional political parties. It had claimed that the political parties received huge sums of money in form of donations and contributions from corporates, trusts and individuals but do not disclose complete information about the sources of such donations.

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