Political Party and Public Authority

Context: The Supreme Court agreed to hold a detailed hearing on a bunch of petitions seeking to bring political parties under the ambit of Right to Information (RTI) Act.

Public Authority 

According to Section 2(h) of the Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2005 

Public authority means any authority or body or institution of self- government established or constituted-

  • By or under the Constitution; 
  • By any other law made by Parliament; 
  • By any other law made by state legislature; 
  • By notification issued or order made by the appropriate Government, and includes any—
    • body owned, controlled or substantially financed
    • non-Government organization substantially financed, directly or indirectly by funds provided by the appropriate Government;

Political Parties should be a Public Authority

  • They hold constitutional status and wield constitutional powers under the Tenth Schedule of the Constitution.
    • Under Article 102(2), if a member of a House belonging to a party vote or abstains from voting contrary to the whip issued by his party, he is liable to be disqualified from being a Member of the House.
  • They are substantially financed and exempted by the ‘appropriate Government’ in multiple ways
    • They are claiming tax exemption under section 13A of the Income Tax Act.
    • State is indirectly financing them
      • By way of free airtime on All India Radio and Door darshan. 
      • Under Rules 11 and 12 of the Registration of Electors Rules, 1960, two copies of the Electoral Rolls are supplied to the recognized Political Parties, free of cost. 
      • By allocating various houses/buildings/other types of accommodation to them either free of cost or at concessional rates. 
  • The Election Commission is an instrumentality of the State. Allotment of election symbols by the Election Commission to various them is suggestive of the public character of the Political Parties.

Political Parties should be a Public Authority

  • Revealing confidential information may have negative repercussions for them.
    • Like which candidate was selected for what reasons and what discussions happened within the political party, etc.
  • Free airtime during the elections is a popular practice in other democracies of the world.
  • Free provisioning of electoral rolls to them is a statutory requirement and may not be construed as substantial financing.
  • Allotment of plots of land/Government accommodation to them at economical rates cannot be construed as substantial financing. 
  • Tax exemption under section 13A given to them is a statutory requirement and cannot be construed as financing them by the Central Government.
  • If they are put under RTI political rivals may maliciously flood their Centre Public Information Officers with RTI applications.

On the basis of a petition filed by NGO Association for Democratic Reforms, the Central Information Commission (CIC), in 2013 and 2015, had declared national and regional political parties to be public authorities.

Law Commission of India in their 170th Report on “Reform of Electoral Laws (1999)” on Political Parties:

  • As democracy and accountability constitute the core of our constitutional system, the same concepts must also apply to and bind the Political Parties which are integral to parliamentary democracy
  • It is the Political Parties that form the Government, man the Parliament and run the governance of the country. Therefore, it is necessary to introduce internal democracy, financial transparency and accountability in the working of the Political Parties. 

A political party which does not respect democratic principles in its internal working cannot be expected to respect those principles in the governance of the country. It cannot be dictatorship internally and democratic in its functioning outside. So, the integrity in process of political parties should be balanced with the requirement of confidentiality of core processes and functions while maintaining transparency and accountability in political parties.

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