The RTI Act, which was the Congress' chosen shield-cum-weapon when it came to facing questions of corruption in the government, has now been conveniently modified to leave political parties out of its ambit. According to PTI, the decision to change the RTI Act was taken during a Cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. It is in common knowledge that corruption thrives in all ranks of almost all political parties and not making them answerable to RTI queries will keep the core of corruption protected from public glare and criticism.
RTI activists and enthusiasts from across the country are obviously not amused. Shailesh Gandhi, former central information commissioner said, " The decision shows that the prime minister and the parliament are very short sighted. This will be noted in the history of India as an act of regression. It may sound too ambitious, but I still hope that wisdom will prevail and a few political parties will oppose the decision when it is discussed in the Parliament." He added that with this move the government demonstrated its narrow interests and disregard for democracy.
Activist Subhash Chandra Agarwal, who is also a co- petitioner in the CIC case that demanded political parties be brought under the RTI act said that he had seen hope that day the central information commission ruled that parties would be covered under the RTI Act.
"We had anticipated that the parties would oppose the ruling. The cabinet decision shows that the CIC verdict was so strong that none of the political parties could challenge it in the court and they took the route of amendments. Every time the parties face such crisis, they come together. This is the democracy of politicians, by politicians and for politicians," said Agarwal.
Nikhil Dey, member, national campaign for people’s right to information (NCPRI), suggested that the parties didn't initially move court against the CIC order as they wanted to take a measure like this which would absolutely gag public voices against their seamy functioning. The reasons why the political parties want to keep their finances under wraps are pretty obvious, said Dey.
"Also, if the government had ay objection to the CIC ruling and wanted to amend the act, it should have consulted people and held debates. Now since the cabinet has approved amendments, we will oppose it," Dey added.
Venkatesh Nayak, programme head, access to information programme, commonwealth human rights initiative (CHRI), said that by allowing this amendment to take place political parties will end up endorsing the stereotype that they are corrupt and indulge in malpractices that they don't want the voters to get wind of. Nayak added, "They say one thing and do something else."