Citizens can seek info on finances of political parties :CIC

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New Delhi, Apr 30 (UNI) The financial activities of political parties are now open to public scriutiny with the Central Information Commission (CIC) ruling that people can seek the Income Tax returns of political parties to get details on their fundings.

The significant decision came on an appeal of an NGO --Association of Democratic Reforms (ADR).

The appellant filed an application under Section 6(1) of the Right to Information Act before the Central Board of Direct Taxes, Ministry of Finance to know whether the political parties mentioned in the RTI-application had submitted their Income Tax Returns for the years 2002-03, 2003-04,2004-05, 2005-06, 2006-07.

However, most of the CPIOs rejected her application on various grounds: One said the information was exempt under Section 8(1)(d) of the Right to Information Act, 2005 since it contained details and particulars of commercial activities of the political parties.

The CPIO, Mumbai stated that information had been submitted by the assessees in commercial confidence.

One said the returns were submitted by the assessees in fiduciary capacity and they were confidential in nature and, as such their disclosure was exempted under Section 8(1)(e).

The other said the disclosure of information has no relationship with public activity and no public interest was involved and, as such, it could not be disclosed under Section 8(1)(j).

The appellant thus received varying replies from the CPIOs in response to her main RTI-application, following which she decided to move CIC.

The CIC said transperency in the organisations and functioning of the poltical partries was a must as they influence the exercise of political power.

"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, allowing ADR's appeal.

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

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

Barring the CPI and CPM, all other political parties had objected to disclosure of information on their IT returns.

The Ministry of Law&Justice in its response refused to express any opinion on the issue ''on which decision is essentially to be taken by the Central Information Commission in discharge of its statutory functions. '' The Ministry also said that expressing any opinion or view could amount to conflict of interest because public authority, against whom Central Information Commission might pass an order, may be a Government Ministry Department or an officer of the government.

The Election Commission had also said the political parties were not required to furnish information about their IT returns to it under the law.

It, however, said, the EC had submitted a proposal for amendment in the statutes so as to make it mandatory for political parties to publish their audited accounts for scrutiny of the general public.

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