Kapil Sibal defends decision to keep political parties out of RTI ambit

New Delhi: The government on Friday defended its decision to amend the RTI Act to keep political parties out of the purview of the ombudsman, saying they are not "public authorities" but voluntary association of people.

The Cabinet had approved two amendments to the RTI Act yesterday to thwart an order of the CIC that political parties should come within the ambit of this law.

Kapil Sibal. AFP

Kapil Sibal. AFP

Justifying this step, Law Minister Kapil Sibal told reporters here, "Political parties are not public authorities. A political party is a voluntary association of persons. People can join or leave a party. We get elected. We are not appointed like officials."

The Cabinet has approved an amendment to Section 2(h) of the Act on the grounds that political parties are not public authorities and, hence, this law does not apply to them.

Sibal said political parties are only registered and recognised under the Representation of the People Act, 1951.

"Political parties will not be able to function (if they are brought within RTI). We will not be able to open our minds within our party," he said.

The Minister maintained that if political parties are brought under the purview of the Act, they will be flooded with applications seeking information about candidate selection, who dissented or differed on which decision and other such sensitive details.

"The Information Commissioners have held that we are an authority just because we are substantially funded. This premise, according to all political parties is flawed... While we respect the Commission, we are also somewhat concerned," Sibal said.

Accepting that more needs to be done to bring about transparency in the functioning of political parties, he indicated that it could not be through RTI.

Asked why the government had not gone to court against the CIC order and instead decided to amend the law, Sibal said since the CIC order is operative, this was a "matter of urgency". Therefore, the government is planning to move a Bill to overturn the order, he said.

The government has kept the option of approaching the high court- which is the appellate authority on CIC orders- to seek relief in case there is any further delay.

Noting that parties do not work under a "veil of secrecy", Sibal said, "Under Section 29 (B) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, political parties can receive donations.

"Under Section 29 (C), parties have to declare their donations to the Election Commission. All assets and liabilities are declared under 75(A) to the EC," the minister said.

Asked about the clause exempting sharing of details of all contributions under Rs 20,000, Sibal said the law is there to deal with any party which may be flouting the rules.

Information and Broadcasting Minister Manish Tewari maintained that small contributions, which may come from people not so well-off and living in rural areas, should also be appreciated.

However, the government was evasive on why the identity of those making contributions below Rs 20,000 should be not be shared.

He maintained that the Election Commission takes initiative from time to time to make the political system more transparent and accountable.

PTI