A sinister attempt to clip wings of higher judiciary
By Kamlendra Kanwar | Published: 08th September 2013 07:16 AM |
The ruling coalition and most opposition parties fight ferociously in Parliament. But when it comes to protecting their common interests like shielding themselves from public scrutiny, they are one. It is this unity amid efforts to make them more transparent and accountable that unmasks them.
The latest case in point is the amendment to the Right to Information Act which seeks immunity for political parties from accountability to people at large. Close on the heels of that has come a Bill slated to wrest the initiative for appointment of judges in the higher judiciary from the judges themselves and vest that authority in a six-member Judicial Appointments Commission which would be an executive body.
Another retrograde move of parliamentarians is to try and overturn the Supreme Court’s order that forbids convicted MPs from contesting elections to legislative bodies.
It all adds up to a sinister attempt to make the parliamentarians more powerful and to clip the wings of the higher judiciary to tilt the scales in favour of the executive once for all. Since parliamentarians in general have failed the people by the manner in which they have closed ranks to become all-powerful, it is civil society that must oppose such measures tooth and nail so that accountability is applied across the board.
The moot question is if the purpose of the RTI Act is transparency and accountability in the functioning of entities which impact citizens’ daily lives, why should political parties be kept out?
The unfortunate subversion of the Right to Information Act to exclude from its ambit political parties has mercifully been halted, at least for now. By deferring the passing of the Right to Information (Amendment) Bill 2013 introduced in the Lok Sabha on August 12, Parliament may have kindled hopes that the MPs may give up on the pernicious amendment, but there is no room for misplaced wishful thinking. This may well be just a brief interregnum before the MPs of all hues strike again.
In June this year, the Chief Information Commissioner’s (CIC) office had passed an order saying political parties should come under the Act as they were public authorities. That outraged the political parties which were wary of throwing themselves open to public scrutiny. That almost all parties are one in opposing the application of the Right to Information shows the extent to which politicians in general were petrified of a law that would have snatched away their immunity not to disclose information that could embarrass them.
The government took refuge under the fallacious argument that political parties are not government or constitutional bodies and do not take government funds, hence should they be kept out. Most major political parties are in agreement with the amendment except the Biju Janata Dal, Trinamool Congress and Communist Party of India.
The CIC’s order which the political parties are attempting to overturn was not the first of its kind. There was earlier the case of the Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI). In response to an RTI application, the PHFI had argued that as a public-private partnership initiative, it was a completely autonomous institution and not a public authority governed by the RTI Act. The CIC ruled that public servants were on the board of the PHFI and they were obviously representatives of the government.
For the principal political parties to now not accept the CIC’s interpretation of the law because it applies to their members is a travesty of justice which shows the elected representatives in poor light. There can be little doubt that the proposed amendment would indeed kill the spirit of the Act.
Kanwar is a senior journalist