New Delhi: The Supreme Court today sought responses from the Centre, the Election Commission and six political parties, including Congress and BJP, on a plea to declare all national and regional political parties “public authorities” to bring them under the ambit of the Right to Information (RTI) Act.
“Issue notice,” a bench comprising Chief Justice H.L. Dattu and justices Arun Kumar Mishra and Amitava Roy said.
The Association for Democratic Reforms, an NGO, has also sought a direction that the political parties be asked to declare all donations, including those below Rs.20,000 as well. Lawyer Prashant Bhushan, appearing for the NGO, contended that political parties were public authorities and hence amenable to the RTI Act.
The Central Information Commission, in its detailed order, had also held that political parties were public authorities and hence should disclose information under the RTI Act.
“Political parties do not have to pay the income tax on donations and, moreover, the donations below Rs.20,000 need not be disclosed under the law by them,” the lawyer said, adding that these parties also controlled the legislature and the law-making process.
Earlier, the NGO had approached SC seeking transparency and accountability in functioning of recognised national and regional political parties. It had claimed that the political parties received huge sums of money in the form of donations and contributions from corporates, trusts and individuals but did not disclose complete information about the sources of such donations.
In its plea, the NGO had urged the apex court to direct all national and regional parties to mandatorily disclose details about their income as well as expenses. It also sought the declaration of all details of donations and funding received by the political parties, irrespective of the amount donated and details of donors making donations to them and to electoral trusts.
The petition had claimed that political parties enjoyed a stronghold over their elected MPs and MLAs under Schedule 10 of the Constitution, which makes it compulsory for members of either Houses of Parliament or state legislatures to abide by the directions of their parties, failing which they stood to be disqualified.
Besides Congress and BJP, the apex court also issued notices to the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), Communist Party of India (CPI), CPI(M) and Bahujan Samaj Party on the plea which was filed by the NGO and RTI activist Subhash C. Agrawal.
In June 2013, the Chief Information Commission had held that political parties are “public authorities” under Section 2(h) of the RTI Act and hence must furnish all information under the Act. The NGO and Agrawal had again moved the CIC alleging non-compliance. The CIC then held that its previous order was “final and binding” and expressed its helplessness in the matter as the parties refused to appear before it, the plea said.