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Parliamentary panel to examine proposed changes in RTI Act
Monday November 4, 2013 11:17 PM, IANS

A parliamentary standing committee will commence proceedings Wednesday to examine the amendment to the Right to Information Act which seeks to neutralise the verdict of the Central Information Commission (CIC).

The amendment to the RTI Act is rooted in the June 3, 2013 verdict of the CIC.

The CIC had held that since six national political parties, including the Congress, the BJP, the CPI-M, the CPI, NCP and BSP, were being "substantially financed" by the central government, and given the "criticality" of the role played by them in the country's "democratic set-up and the nature of duties performed by them that point to their public character, they ought to be brought under the ambit of Section 2(h) (of the RTI Act)."

Under Section 2(h) of the RTI Act, "public authority" also includes "non-government organisation substantially financed, directly or indirectly, by funds provided by the appropriate government".

"Political parties are the unique institution of the modern constitutional state. These are essentially political institutions and are non-governmental. Their uniqueness lies in the fact that in spite of being non-governmental, they come to wield or directly or indirectly influence exercise of governmental power. It would be odd to argue that transparency is good for all state organs but not so good for political parties, which, in reality, control all the vital organs of the state," the CIC had said in its verdict.

The CIC had said that besides tax exemptions, the political parities enjoyed many other privileges, including prime air time during elections, government accommodation and land for their offices.

The bill to amend the RTI Act, which was introduced in the Lok Sabha Aug 12, 2013, was referred to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Personnel, Public grievances, Law and Justice for examination Sep 5, 2013.

The amendment bill intended to remove the "adverse effects" of the CIC decision by keeping political parties out of the purview of the RTI Act, as it would "hamper" their "smooth working".

The amendment, now under the scanner of the Parliamentary Standing Committee, said that bringing the political parties in the ambit of the RTI Act was not the objective of the transparency law.

The Rajya Sabha secretariat, in an advertisement issued in newspapers Sep 21, 2013, invited suggestions from the public on the proposed amendment in the RTI Act.

The amendment to the RTI Act, which witnessed an unprecedented unanimity among political parties, cutting across ideological lines, had to be shelved and referred to the Stating Committee in the face of stiff resistance by RTI activists and members of the civil society.

The government decided to refer the bill to the parliamentary standing committee on Ministry of on Personnel, Public grievances, Law and Justice for examination, and it was given three months to submit its report.

RTI activist and transparency campaigner Subhash Agrawal, who is opposing the proposed amendment, said: "The apprehensions expressed by political parties about the possible outcome of the verdict are based on misconceptions... Transparency Act does not give absolute and blanket power to citizenry to ask any type of questions."

He described as unfounded the apprehension that the CIC verdict would open floodgates to applications seeking to know the considerations that weighed in deciding political strategy, including selection of candidates during elections.

Agrawal said, "RTI Act provides only for giving information materially available on record. Verbal deliberations can only be termed material on record, to be provided under the RTI Act if there is some provision to get it recorded in audio or video."

Besides, he says, there are 10 sub-clauses under Section 8(1) of the act, which offer exemptions from disclosing information and which would provide sufficient powers to political parties for denying information.

There is also section 7(9) which empowers public authorities to decline any such information which may divert the resources of public authorities disproportionately.

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