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Political parties' I-T returns to be under RTI Act

May 01, 2008 09:34 IST
In a landmark decision the Central Information Commission (CIC) has ruled that the income tax returns of political parties will come under the purview of the Right to Information Act (RTI). The move will, it is hoped, enable the public to get details on the funding sources of political parties.

The ruling was pronounced on an appeal an NGO, the Association of Democratic Reforms (ADR), which sought the disclosure of income tax returns and assessment orders of such organisations.

All political parties except the CPI and CPM had objected to the move. The response of as many as 20 political parties had come on the notices issued by the apex information panel.

The Congress had termed the appellant as a "busy body having malafide intent" and accused it of seeking information for "ulterior motives".

The BJP had claimed the I-T returns were confidential information, parting with which would amount to infringement of certain privacy rights of the political parties' members.

Today, however, the Congress and the BJP tried to put on a brave face and said they were still to study the order. Congress General Secretary Manish Tewari said the RTI Act had provisions for appeal in case a third party objected to giving information.

"In any case, we file our tax returns with the Election Commission and anyone who wants to scrutinise our returns that badly can ask the Commission for a copy," Tewari said.

The CIC said since political parties influence the exercise of political power, transparency in their organisation and functions, and more particularly, their means of funding is a democratic imperative and, therefore, is in public interest.

"There is unmistakable public interest in knowing these funding details which would enable the citizen to make an informed choice about the political parties to vote for," the CIC said in its 24-page order allowing ADR's appeal.

"The laws of the land do not make it mandatory for political parties to disclose sources of their funding and even less so the manner of expending those funds. In the absence of such laws, the only way a citizen can gain access to the details of funding of political parties is through I-T returns filed annually with I-T authorities," Information Commissioner A N Tiwari said.

Referring to various Supreme Court rulings bringing transparency in the functioning of political parties and their fundings, the CIC held that every citizen is entitled to seek information from I-T department either under I-T Act or the RTI Act.

It, however, held that the Permanent Account Number (PAN) of those political parties whose I-T returns were to be divulged should not be disclosed as there was a possibility of the information being subjected to fraudulent use.

BS Reporter in New Delhi
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