08/07/2015 2:15 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST

Supreme Court Asks Why Political Parties Should Not Be Accountable Under RTI

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) supporters wave a flag during a public rally by BJP prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi after his victory in Vadodara on May 16, 2014. India's triumphant Hindu nationalists declared 'a new era' in the world's biggest democracy Friday after hardline leader Narendra Modi propelled them to the biggest win in 30 years on promises to revitalise the economy. AFP PHOTO/INDRANIL MUKHERJEE (Photo credit should read INDRANIL MUKHERJEE/AFP/Getty Images)

NEW DELHI -- The Supreme Court has asked six national parties to explain why they should not be made accountable under the Right to Information (RTI) Act.

In response to a petition filed by Association of Democratic Reforms, a non-governmental organisation, and RTI activist Subhash Chandra Agrawal, a bench led by Chief Justice H.L. Dattu issued notice on Tuesday to the central government and the Election Commission as well as the Indian National Congress, Bhartiya Janata Party, Communist Party of India (Marxist) , Communist Party of India, Nationalist Congress Party, and Bahujan Samaj Party.

Advocate Prashant Bhushan, who appeared for petitioners, argued that these parties should be directed to comply with the Central Information Commission ruling of June 3, 2013, which find them to be a "public authority" under the RTI Act, and required to disclose details about their income and expenditure.

Besides receiving substantial tax exemptions from the state, Bhushan argued, political parties form the legislature and frame the country's policies, which makes it vital for their donations and funding to be public information.

“Political parties need to be accountable and transparent," he told HuffPost India in a phone conversation on Wednesday.

The petitioners noted that Section 29C of the Representation of People Act, 1951 mandates that political parties must submit their contribution details received in excess of Rs 20,000 to the Election Commission of India, but a recent study conducted by the National Election Watch and ADR has found "incomplete disclosure of information in the donations report of political parties making it difficult to link the donations with the donors."

So far, the political parties have ignored the decision of the CIC which does not have power to hold them in contempt.

CIC ruling: "We hold that INC, BJP, CPI(M), CPIO, NCP and BSP have been substantially financed by the Central Government under section 2(h)(ii) of the RTI Act. The criticality of the role being played by these Political Parties in our democratic set up and the nature of duties performed by them also point towards their public character, bringing them in the ambit of section 2(h)."

Section 2(h) of the RTI Act defines ‘public authority’ as follows :- “public authority” means any authority or body or institution of self Government established or constituted,--(a) by or under the Constitution; (b) by any other law made by Parliament; (c) by any other law made by State Legislature; (d) by notification issued or made by the appropriate Government, and includes any -(i) body owned, controlled or substantially financed; (ii) non-government organisation substantially financed, directly or indirectly by funds provided by the appropriate Government

Section 4 (1) b of the RTI Act requires a 'public authority' to disclose "the budget allocated to each of its agency, indicating the particulars of all plans, proposed expenditures and reports on disbursements made."

Bhushan expressed confidence that the Supreme Court would back the CIC's stand on the issue.

"Most probably the court will hold that a political party is a 'public authority.' It should be decided within the next six to eight months," he said.

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