New Delhi: In a landmark ruling to ensure transparency in the functioning of political parties, the Central Information Commission (CIC) on Monday held that the parties are public authorities and answerable to citizens under Right to Information (RTI) Act.
The Commission, a quasi-judicial body, has said six national parties Congress, BJP, NCP, CPI-M, CPI and BSP have been substantially funded indirectly by the Central government and they have the character of public authority under the RTI Act as they perform public functions.
After the order of the full bench of CIC, the parties will be answerable to the citizens regarding their source of funding, how they spend money and choice of candidates for elections, among other issues.
The CIC has directed the parties to appoint Public Information Officers within six weeks to respond to RTI queries and adhere to all the legal provisions.
"In view of the nature of public functions performed by political parties...we conclude that political parties in question are public authorities under section 2(h) of the RTI Act," the Bench, comprising Chief Information Commissioner Satyanand Mishra and Information Commissioners Annapurna Dixit and ML Sharma, said.
The Bench held the income tax exemptions granted to the parties and free air time given by All India Radio and Doordarshan at the time of elections also substantially contribute to indirect financing from the government.
"We have no hesitation in concluding that INC/AICC, BJP, CPI-M, CPI, NCP and BSP have been substantially financed by the central government and therefore they are held to be public authorities under Section 2 (h) of the RTI Act," the Bench ordered.
Speaking on the issue of performing public duty, a point raised by Bairwal, the CIC held that political parties "affect the lives of the citizens, directly or indirectly in every conceivable way and are continuously engaged in performing public duty. It is, therefore, important that they become accountable to public.”