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Bring political parties under the ambit of RTI

With every election in India, influx of huge amount of money into public domain becomes apparent. Police officials and I-T sleuths gear up to nab those politicians and their aides who pump in black money to woo voters ahead of voting dates. Where does all this money come from?

For political parties and politicians, money could come from various sources like donations, gifts, or may be some kind of investment. The most common and easy way of receiving/giving money is through hawala. Hence, it is really very challenging to cut this chain and bring this route to light. It would eventually help voters know about the ugly means politicians use to them.

In recent times, politicians from both ruling and opposition parties have been very vocal and vociferous about black money stashed in foreign accounts and have been tied up in serious verbal duel with each other over the intention of bringing it back. This was apparently to project an honest image of themselves or to create news headlines. BJP even made it one of its potential issues in the past to pry at Congress.
Given this situation, it is very shocking to see huge amount of unaccounted money being used by our politicians in every election. This approach certainly makes a voter corrupt and greedy for quick
gains. No party seems serious to take substantial measures to address this issue.

The Hope (RTI): When it comes to passing bills, obviously Congress leaves other political parties way behind. It was Congress that introduced the much-talked-about Right to Information Act (RTI) bill in Parliament. The intention, as reported, was to bring in transparency and accountability in government functioning. It really has proved to be a very important tool in bringing many irregularities to light.

Since the Act was passed in 2005, it empowered citizens and acted as a tool to make public institutions and government officials accountable as well as helped in fighting corruption. Information accessed through the RTI Act helped in unearthing scams worth thousands of crores including Commonwealth Games (Delhi), 2G Spectrum, Adarsh Society in Mumbai, etc.

The RTI Act even brought accountability in judiciary, though in principle the judiciary does not come under the purview of the Act. As a result of an RTI application filed by RTI activist Subhash Agrawal, assets of all judges of the Supreme Court were published on court’s website and it is now updated annually. The Act has brought a kind of revolution by opening up government departments for public scrutiny. In one of the recent public rallies, Mr. Rahul Gandhi, with the intention to take the credit, said his party introduced the RTI Act so that “the whole system becomes answerable” to the common man.

Problem Within: In our democratic country, politics and politicians often interfere in bureaucratic functioning. In order to bring transparency in the entire system, efforts must be made to bring transparency and accountability in bureaucracy as well as politics. Though Mr. Gandhi hopes “the whole system” becomes answerable to the citizens, his party (and for that matter all political parties) did not approve the idea of bringing political parties under the ambit of RTI Act citing various legal and
technical glitches.

The Congress party was not alone in this issue, though. Despite insistence of the civil society, activists and public in general, political parties have sought to keep themselves out of the ambit of the transparency law. Welfare Party of India (WPI) was the first national political party that offered to come under the ambit of the RTI Act. Now in its 2014 elections manifesto, AAP also showed some
similar interest.

These players even backed the amendment to the RTI Act for keeping political parties out of the ambit of the RTI but it could not be passed before the end of 15th Lok Sabha. Now it’s pending in Parliament, and the issue may bounce back again. Meanwhile, it must be recalled that the Chief Information Commission (CIC) has already passed an order last year that brings six major parties under the RTI Act: Congress, BJP, NCP, CPI-Marxist, CPI, and BSP.

Debate Re-ignited: Ahead of general elections, the debate has been reignited by noted activists Aruna Roy, Anjali Bhardwaj and Nikhil Dey. They filed an online petition asking leaders of the political parties to appoint Public Information Officers (PIOs) to bring greater transparency in the political system. Even after passage of the order 9 months ago, none of the aforementioned parties acted on it. By not acting on the standing orders of the CIC, the petitioners wondered as “what message does your party is passing to the people”.

Use of unaccounted money and illegal expenditure during elections certainly raise doubts among citizens of this country. It’s right time for the political parties to act and give out a positive message among voters before elections as they are keen to know more about the political parties and the leaders before casting their valuable vote.

(SM Fasiullah is based in Hyderabad.)

TCN [April 7, 2014] – http://twocircles.net/2014apr07/bring_political_parties_under_ambit_rti.html

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