The LexGaze Weekly - WE THE PEOPLE

Including political parties under the ambit of rti- a desired move?

Tejas Sateesha Hinder

Issue 6 | July 25, 2020

People in a democratic setup are entitled to the Right to Information about the functioning of governmental and affiliated administrative institutions, and in India, the same is exercised through a very powerful tool, viz. a documented filing of RTI. This tool ensures transparency and accountability in the functioning of the government. To further ensure a pre-handed transparency and accountability for the people in such a setup, it becomes imperative to analyse whether the RTI is to be extended to the working of political parties, registered for the purposes of constituting elections at the Local, State and Central levels.

Let us first look at why this is necessary, and what are the advantages this move can significantly create. Political Parties contesting in elections put forward a lot of agendas and objectives that they aim to fulfil, in order to cater to the interests of the people. These promissory mandates many a times go unchecked and unaccounted, and ultimately, incidents of these not being satisfied become common. They further at many points lack an effective supporting mechanism for execution and/or implementation, which makes promise, prima facie appearing to be satisfying, not the case due to the surrounding impracticality. Once these aspects are questioned, it not only creates a persuasion on political parties to plan and act more effectively as well as refrain from promising things for the purpose of creating a potential vote bank, but also bring out a party’s ultimate capacity in going ahead and doing the needful in the most convenient and feasible manner possible.

In addition to this, members being sacked for various internal reasons have time and again created controversy. Though allowance for questioning on reasons for the same at all times may be arbitrarily unfair on the political parties, whenever there emerges a serious controversial conflict, which indicates towards the ineffectiveness or incapacity of a political party. In such situations, this tool comes handy, which again shall not be restricted to incidents of sacking, but also incidents of choosing to affiliate themselves with other political party. In cases of ineffectiveness, incapacity or disloyalty of the member resigning or being sacked, the party may choose to mention the same in a less lucid manner, so as to make people aware of the same and hence vote wisely.

Next, people have a right at all times to gain clarity on how their taxes are being diverted. Political parties enjoy many subsidies, such as tax exemptions, which are financed by the governments in power. Due to internal compromises made between the ruling and opposing parties, many a times, such exemptions go unaccounted for, and hence, questioning the opposing party on any such matter, to highlight malpractices surrounding diversion of the taxpayer’s money, in place. Though the ruling government remains a source for such information, it is statutorily empowered to respond in the most ambiguous manner possible to such queries, thus allowing for concealment of essential information. Hence, questioning a political party not in power about the same, would attract better communication and extent of such information.

A major issue that can further be curbed here is the potential accrual of crony capitalism, as the RTI would empower people to know the sources from which political parties are acquiring funds, and the amount of funding that is being acquired and the amount being spent. This would ensure that a massive amount of funding doesn’t divulge unnecessarily, and the same doesn’t go unchecked.

Addressing the problems that this would pose, and why the same should not be done, it becomes imperative to fundamentally understand that Political parties are not statutorily recognized institutions, and do not have explicit statutory obligations to stay accountable to the people and the democratic setup in place, and as institutions, a measure to gauge their effectiveness would be by interpreting and analysing their mandates and promises in terms of feasibility, and directly through mechanisms in place such as through social media and representations that can be made, which ultimately do serve the purpose.

An inclusion under the ambit of RTI, would further hamper any sort of possible decisions that would be kept contingent on the happening or non-happening of certain events, such as policy decisions that could potentially accrue or not accrue. The entire internal functioning of a party can be disrupted by virtue of bringing the parties under the ambit of RTI, as in addition to the pending decisions, which cannot necessarily be elaborated on, there stands an additional problem in terms of reasoning out the sacking of a member or his/her resignation. These reasons can be sensitive, and many a time part of a game of alliance formation to outrun a stronger political party or faction in place, and disclosing these details would be detrimental to the interests of the party.

Coming to the point on attraction of funds and the tax exemptions enjoyed, it is a wiser option to make use of the provisions of the Income Tax Act to gain the requisite information, or make representations to the Election Commission about the same. Disclosure of prospective and potential areas of funding would be detrimental to prospective planning of political parties, which may involve reservation of funds for future collaborations and affiliations, or planning and implementation of policies and plans of action, which may be kept for future, or would be contingent on the success of schemes of plan of action implemented as a precursor. Disclosure of details to this extent destroys the very autonomy that is granted to political parties in an indirect democracy, and affects the process of decision-making largely because of the continuous involvement that people with differing ideologies would seek to make in the process, as well as the autonomy that is lost out on in the process of decision-making, as the planning process gets substantively affected not only by the aforesaid representation of interests by the people, but also by the need to ensure that the majority understands what the step is going to be, its impacts, etc., which is a matter of expertise.

On a concluding note, it would be fair to say that selective inclusion of political parties under the ambit of RTI is justified. This selective nature should permit and direct political parties to answer clearly, questions raised with regard to actions that have been taken, or have been announced that would be taking place with surety, and at the same time allow for concealed answering of questions relating to future allocation of funds, and the manner in which the party seeks to invest it, which again at the same time should not allow parties to slip away from responding to questions on funds collected, and the expenditure on each aspect on which investments have been made. As far as questions on decision making are concerned, parties should be made obligated to provide a rationale behind policies announces that would be taking place with surety. A leeway in this regard can again be provided for concealed answering if the parties have chosen to act on an issue in a manner contingent to the enactment or non-enactment of a policy. Statutory guidelines should be issued to the aforesaid extent, and a periodic preview committee should be constituted under such statute at the State level for each State and at the Central level for maintaining a record of such RTIs filed and subsequent developments that take place, so as to adjudicate consistency with the responses of the political parties. This is how accountability can be bolstered in a democratic setup.