Declare political parties as public authorities- Petition before Supreme Court urges

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New Delhi, May 20: Urging the Supreme Court to declare all the national and regional political parties as "public authorities" and bring them within the ambit of the Right to Information (RTI) Act, the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) has filed a petition in the Supreme Court.

Seeking transparency and accountability in the functioning of recognised national and regional political parties, the plea, urged the court to direct all such parties to disclose details regarding their income and expenditure.

SC

The petitioners also sought the entire details of donations and funding received by the political parties, irrespective of the amount donated as well as the full details of the donors making donations to them and to the electoral trusts.

Defiance by political parties:

It is to be noted that currently, political parties are required to disclose information of only those donors who donate above Rs 20,000. As this is required only to enjoy tax exemption, those parties who do not submit their contribution reports are not penalised.

In the petition it is alleged that there was an arrogant defiance of the lawful decision of the Central Information Commission by six national political parties. The decision of the Supreme Court will determine whether the law of the land applies to political parties or are political parties above the law. We certainly hope the Supreme Court will uphold the law," says Prof. Jagdeep Chhokar, Founder Trustee, ADR.

The Central Information Commission (CIC), on June 3, 2013, had declared six national political parties, namely the INC, BJP, CPI(M), CPI, NCP and BSP to be "public authorities" under Section 2(h) of the RTI Act.

However, none of the six political parties complied with the said order. After 22-month-long wait on non-compliance, the CIC on March 16, 2015 declared that its June 3, 2013 order was "legally correct" and "final". The CIC lamented that the RTI Act does not provide the Commission with adequate powers to deal with the contempt and non-compliance of its orders by the political parties.

Grounds for filing of petition:

-Under 10th Schedule of the Constitution, political parties enjoy a stronghold over their elected MPs/MLAs and this power is not only confined to the manner of voting but it also extends to their conduct.

-Under Section 29A of the Representation of People Act, 1951 all political parties specifically affirm to bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution and such allegiance is made compulsory for the purpose of registration.

-Political Parties enjoy a total tax exemption under Section 13A of the Income Tax Act.

-Political parties receive huge sums of money in the form of donations and contributions from corporate, trusts and individuals.

-Political parties also adopt the coupon system for the purposes of collecting funds and majority of the cash donations received by them remain unaccounted.

-Information about political parties, their income, expenditure and details of donors is not disclosed by political parties for public scrutiny.

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