All political parties in India except the Communist Party of India have declined to provide information through a Right To Information application on political donations.
A release by the Association for Democratic Reforms states that while the CPI provided the information about their largest donors, their addresses, the mode of payment of these donations, etc; other parties either didn't reply or simply said that they did not come under the RTI Act.
In a letter signed by their then general secretary A B Bardhan, the CPI said that it is a public authority as the organisation is substantially financed directly or indirectly by government funds.
It also said that they have an internal appellate authority in case we were not satisfied by the information received.
The Indian National Congress however returned the RTI letter along with the postal order. In a letter signed by Motilal Vohra, it said that since the All India Congress Committee does not come under the RTI, it was returning the letter along with the postal order fee.
The Bharatiya Janata Party did not even respond to the RTI application. Neither did the Bahujan Samaj Party. The Nationalist Communist Party replied, but said that it didn't have enough man-power to provide the information asked for.
The CPI-Marxist also returned the RTI application along with the postal order. Through a letter singed by Hari Singh Kang, member central secretariat, the CPI-M, it said that the party is is not a public authority as per the provisions of RTI Act and hence under no obligation to provide the information.
Making these replies the basis, the ADR had filed a complaint with the common interest community in March 2011 to direct the political parties to provide this information. This complaint has now come for hearing along with another complaint of Subhash Agarwal, an RTI activist.
The ADR said in a statement that the leaders of all political parties publicly maintain that they are committed to transparency and probity in the functioning of political parties. However when it comes to the implementation, their behavior is completely opposite.
These replies bring to the fore the biggest farce that our democracy is plagued with -- the opaque functioning of political parties with no space for engagement with the citizens and no willingness to open themselves to public scrutiny.
Association for Democratic Reforms and National Election Watch in 2008 had also won the CIC judgement making IT returns and contribution reports of political parties available in the public domain.
Even at that time, all political parties had opposed to part with this information. The CIC had however directed the Income Tax authorities to make this information public as there was public interest in the information.
It is common knowledge that the political parties get lot of benefits and facilities from various government departments. As a recent report of the ADR and the National Election Watch showed, they have huge income and all of their income is tax exempt.
Political parties get substantially financed by a very large amount by getting tax exemption on all their income. In addition all the major political parties have been also provided facilities for residential and official use by the Directorate of Estates.
They have been given offices and accommodations at prime locations like Akbar road, Raisina road, Chanakyapuri etc and are charged only a token of money as rent or dues. These facilities are not just provided to them at marginal rates but their maintenance, upgradation, modernisation, renovation and construction is also done at state expense.
A large amount of money is also spent by the Election Commission of India on political parties for giving electoral rolls.
Doordarshan and AIR also provide free broadcast facilities to the political parties. If closely seen, the money spent on that basis actually runs in crores or Rupees. State funding is also given for publicity of political parties during elections.
It is indeed very surprising that the political parties who at one end claim to work under transparent and people centric manner have flatly refused to work in such a fashion.The ADR had filed a complaint on March 23, 2011 with the CIC to get information from political parties. The hearing now is scheduled for September 26. The letter from CIC also has also mentioned that the matter is serious and of wider implications. The case is thus going to be placed before a full bench.