Amidst the sudden burst of energy in the government with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh clearing a slew of infrastructure projects, there’s been a discreet move on the side to bring an ordinance to supersede the Central Information Commission’s ruling that brings political parties under the Right to Information Act.
Most political parties, including the Congress, have already opposed the ruling on the ground that they are funded neither by the government nor by public authorities and so can’t be asked to open their internal workings to RTI activism.
From CPM General Secretary Prakash Karat to Information & Broadcasting Minister Manish Tewari and JD(U) leader Sharad Yadav, most leaders have either written or vocalised their strong opposition to the CIC ruling, arguing that political parties submit their accounts to the I-T Department and that their functioning as well as their internal polls are governed by Election Commission rules.
The CIC had on June 3, while settling a clutch of petitions filed by RTI activist Subhash Aggarwal and senior Supreme Court lawyer-cum-activist Prashant Bhushan, ruled that written records can be sought from any entity in a political party — this would include details of how funds are generated and spent, as well as internal matters such as candidate selection for elections.
Karat has since urged the government to call an all-party meeting on the issue to evolve a common response to the “misguided” CIC ruling, but the Congress had remained non-committal. Party sources had indicated that they were wary of going to court as there was no guarantee of a favourable ruling from the judiciary on the issue and there was other option were few.
Now, it appears, the government would be getting Parliament to intervene. However, it may not wait for the next session to get a bill passed. Since, there’s unanimity among the political parties that the CIC ruling should be rendered void, the Law Ministry has drawn up a draft ordinance and sent it to the Department of Personnel and Training. The ordinance, sources said, seeks to redefine public authority as it appears in the RTI Act, exempting political parties from the ambit of it. It, however, needs to be decided whether the ordinance will be retrospective in nature.
Bhushan, who was one of the petitioners in the case, said such an ordinance will not withstand the legal scrutiny of the court, “it will surely be challenged in court as unconstitutional”.