The Supreme Court on Tuesday issued notice to the central government, Election Commission and all the national political parties seeking their response as to why parties should not be treated as public authorities for the purpose of being under the ambit of the RTI Act.
A bench headed by Chief Justice H.L. Dattu issued notice on a plea by Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) that had sought the political parties must be exposed to public scrutiny under the transparency law as they play an important role in the affairs of the country.
Besides the central government and the poll panel, the notice has been issued to Congress, the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Communist Party of India-Marxist, the Communist Party of India, the Nationalist Congress Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party.
Appearing for the ADR, counsel Prashant Bhushan told the court that political parties play an important role in the formation of government, taking political decisions, including enactment of laws, having far-reaching bearing on the society and the country.
He said political parties get state funding by way of tax exemptions on their funds which they get from various sources.
Bhushan said the political parties should disclose the source of their funding, including those making contributions up to Rs.20,000, which, under the present system, they are not compelled to disclose and forms a major part of their funding.
The plea has sought directions to all “national and regional political parties to disclose for public scrutiny complete details of their income, expenditure, donations and funding including details of donors making donations to these political parties and their electoral trusts”.
ADR has contended that it was seeking “greater transparency and accountability in the functioning of all recognized national and regional political parties in the country”.
“Great harm is being caused to public interest due to lack of transparency in the political system and the political parties, as the electoral system is generating huge black money and large sums of money are being spent on every election, thus leading to violation of citizen’s rights under articles 14, 19(1)(a) and 21 of the constitution,” the ADR said in its petition.
The ADR in its petition has contended that political parties in power exercise significant control over the legislatures and executive, as the elected representatives belonging to party in power are obliged to follow the party line failing which they face the threat of being disqualified.
However, important information about political parties, their income, expenditure, complete details of donors are not disclosed by political parties for public scrutiny and for the right of information of an average voter, says the petition.
It said that the Central Information Commission (CIC) by its June 3, 2013 order had held that six nationally recognized political parties were public authorities under section 2(h) of the RTI Act.
The CIC reiterated its order on March 16 this year after these political parties did not comply with the earlier order.