Major political parties on Thursday vehemently opposed any move to bring them under the ambit of the Right to Information Act saying that facilities and subsidised buildings given for their offices do not constitute funding from the government.
A full bench of the CIC comprising Chief Information Commissioner Satyananda Mishra and information commissioners Annapurna Dixit and M L Sharma was convened to decide on whether political parties come under the RTI Act or not.
According to the RTI Act, a non-governmental body is declared a public authority if it is substantially financed, directly or indirectly by funds provided by the appropriate government. Such public authorities are answerable to public queries raised under the transparency law.
During the hearing, all major national parties like BJP, BSP, CPI-M and NCP except Congress were present while CPI had already represented their case during the last hearing.
Speaking for the NCP, its counsel Amit Anand Tiwari said that according to the RTI Act, public interest is not a criteria to declare a body public authority.
He also said if the details of the donors and such details are put in public domain, other parties may threaten them and thus bring down the entire electoral process.
BSP represented by lawyer Shail Dwivedi claimed that there was not "direct or indirect funding" by the government and the facilities like free air time, buildings at cheap rents and other facilities do not constitute funding.
Similar arguments were put forth by CPI-M Politburo member Ramachandran Pillai who said 40 per cent of its funds come from its cadre which is slightly over 10 lakh across the country as membership of annual Rs 2 annually while rest come from 'levy' and donations and it was practically impossible to give such details.
Pillai said political parties are facing media attack for trying to avoid coming under the RTI Act but party was not concealing anything and all records of donations are properly submitted to respective authorities.
Petitioners Association for Democratic Reforms and Subhash Agrawal opposed these arguments saying the political parties have got huge wealth and tax exemptions which constitute indirect funding from the state as the money goes from state exchequer.
Arguing for ADR, Jagdeep S Chhokar pointed out while government is accountable under the RTI Act those who form government are not. He said democracy and opaqueness do not got together while democracy and transparency do.
He said a notification was not necessary for a body to public function and political parties are performing those public functions even not being notified by the government.
In its representation to the CIC, ADR had said, "The disclosure of the information is in larger public interest. There is also a lot of public interest in the financial transparency of political parties. How they earn their income and what is their expenditure?"
It said the declaration of political parties as public authority would promote transparency and encourage public debate.
"There are questions being raised on the functioning of political parties and the funds they receive. Political parties are an integral part of the democracy. Unless and until they are accountable to the public how can democracy succeed," it said.
After hearing the arguments, the Commission reserved the order.