UPA special: One tune in Supreme Court, another in Parliament

In June, the CIC, which ensures the RTI Act is implemented and public queries are answered by government departments, ruled that the six major national parties (NCP, Congress, BJPCPIBSPCPI(M)) are public authorities under the Right to Information Act and as such must respond to RTI applications. The parties were directed to appoint PIOs and appellate authorities within six weeks as required to be compliant with the RTI Act.

The Bench, comprising Chief Information Commissioner Satyananda Mishra and Information Commissioners Annapurna Dixit and M.L. Sharma, held that the six political parties had been substantially financed by the Central government. Section 2(h)(ii) of the RTI Act states that “public authority” includes any non-governmental organisation substantially financed, directly or indirectly, by funds provided by the appropriate government.

Large tracts of land in prime areas of Delhi had been placed at the disposal of the political parties that are respondents at exceptionally low ratesHuge government accommodations have been placed at the disposal of political parties at very cheap ratesIncome tax exemptions granted and the free air time allotted on All India Radio and Doordarshan at the time of elections also substantially contribute to the financing of the political parties by the Central government. Political parties affect the lives of citizens, directly or indirectly, in every conceivable way and are continuously engaged in performing public duty.

“It is, therefore, important that they became accountable to the public,”

Transparency and accountability of public Authorities is the backbone of a democracy. And the CIC has batted a huge one for the public when they pointed out:

“It would be odd to argue that transparency is good for all state organs but not so good for political parties, which, in reality, control all the vital organs of the state,”

It is a reflection on the state of rule of law and order in India that none of the parties have done so. Instead, having failed to make a convincing case to keep them out of the purview of the RTI Act, they are doing what they do best. Change law, so that the CIC has no authority over them.

This isn’t the only way they are using law to protect their interests that are directly against national interest. The UPA is trying to build a consensus to create a law overturning a Supreme Court verdict that an elected representative convicted of a crime cannot continue in office, even if they appeal to a higher court of law. The method used by politicians convicted of crimes was to file appeals and continue in their roles with the excuse that their case was under appeal. This obviously suits political parties, considering that there is a higher percentage of people with criminal cases against them in Assemblies and the Parliament than on the streets. So, they are trying to bring about a law that will sabotage this landmark judgment by the highest court in India.

Incidentally, the current government probably holds some kind of record for pending bills, but these “save-your-ass” bills seem to anticipate no trouble getting passed. Even the Walkout Party (BJP) is expected to support them, in the longstanding tradition that the laws most harmful to people and profitable to corrupt politicians have been passed unanimously and with minimum debate.

Coming back to the original point, do you know what this joker UPA sarkar gave as a reason to deny any need for RTI for political parties?

Political parties and candidates including MLAs and MPs are accountable to the Election Commission, Income Tax authority and the law of the land

This, is a massive LIE! Flashback to 2009. Ashok Chavan (of Adarsh Scam fame) submitted election expenses to the Eletion Commission of India stated that he spent less than 7 lakh on his total election campaign, inluding Rs. 5,379 on newspaper advertisements (for 6 ads in one minor daily) and Rs.6,000 on cable television ads. Burst out laughing, didja? The Hindu stated that it had collected 47 full page color advertisements in newspapers (including at least one full front page and major dailies ) like Lokmat (which is among the 10 largest newspapers in India and top in Maharashtra -NRS 2006). Essentially, Chavan submitted acounts that would give him a full color page in a newspaper for less than Rs. 200. Of course this is absurd, and the Election Commission wanted to disqualify him for bogus accounts.

Ashok Chavan challenged the jurisdiction of the Election Commission of India to disqualify him in the Supreme Court. In a counter-affidavit to the Election Commission’s stand, the UPA argued that the “correctness or otherwise” of the accounts is no concern of the body that conducts and regulates elections and held that the ECI’s authority to disqualify a candidate “arises only in the event of failure to lodge an account of expenses and not for any other reason…”. In other words, as long as accounts were submitted, however bogus, the Election Commission of India had no authority to disqualify candidates for outright fakery. So much for accountable to the Election Commission of India.

Accountable to the law of the land? This counter affidavit also went against an earlier Supreme Court judgement in the R. Shivarama Gowde vs. P.M. Chandrashekar case (AIR 1999 SC. 252) where, a full Bench ruled “The commissioncan go into the correctness of election expenses filed by the candidate and disqualify a candidate under section 10A of Representation of the People Act 1951.” The court had further held that even if the candidate had not exceeded theelection expenditure limit, the ECI could still disqualify him if he had not lodged those accounts in a true and correct manner.

That was Supreme Court then. This is Parliament now and UPA is also going on record saying that MPs and MLAs are accountable to the Election Commission of India as a reason for why there is no need for RTI into political parties. In essence, UPA is a “double dhol” to borrow quaint Mumbai street slang. By faking facts on whim, it is merrily sabotaging law and eroding the right of people to demand accountability from entities that lie behind all government policies.

Also as Professor Jagdeep S Chhokar writes in the DNA:

Myth No. 3:    Political parties give all necessary information to the ECI and income tax authorities, and citizens can get it from them.

: This is not true. The Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) got copies of income tax returns of political parties through a long-drawn RTI process in 2008. It was discovered from the IT returns that sources of only 20 per cent of the total income, on average, were disclosed in the IT returns. The sources of the balance 80 per cent remain shrouded in mystery. This is what led ADR to seek more information from political parties.

They refused saying they would not do so as they were not public authorities. This is what led to ADR’s complaint to the CIC. All appropriate information is not available to citizens.

A report titled a report titled ‘analysis of income, expenditure and donations of MP’s major political parties‘ released by National Election Watch (NEW) and Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) shows that more than 75% of funding to political parties is from unknown sources. Companies like DOW Chemicals and Vedanta have contributed to political parties in a violation of Foreign Contribution Act (FCRA). The article is worth a read to understand where the money comes from that designs governance that impacts our lives. One only has to remember Bhopal to remember how DOW and the Congress government colluded to deny the victims of the ghastly disaster adequate compensation and prevent prosecution of the management. One only has to see the monumental struggle the tribals of Niyamgiri have to fight to protect their land from Vedanta (also represented by a top Congress politician in courts). It is incestuous, it is opaque and it is against the interest of Indians.

If we let this pass, we will be left with a government that thinks nothing of fooling us to profit itself and hold on to power.

Save India. Save RTI.

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