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Political parties ordered to divulge information

New rules in India aim to increase transparency

 Swati Deb, New Delhi

Swati Deb, New Delhi

Published: June 04, 2013 08:38 AM GMT

Updated: June 03, 2013 11:17 PM GMT

Political parties ordered to divulge information

A landmark ruling should give Indian citizens better access to the information held by political parties. The Central Information Commission decreed yesterday that parties are governed by the country’s Right to Information (RTI) Act and therefore must disclose information about their activities and finances upon request.

The ruling follows a complaint by two activists who were seeking details on the finances and voluntary financial contributions received by six of India’s main political parties, as well as the names and addresses of donors.

This information was witheld from them by the parties, which included the ruling Congress and the right wing Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP, Indian People's Party) who maintained that they are not public organizations and are therefore outside the remit of the Act, which came into force in 2005. 

While the ruling was hailed by activists, the parties expressed general discontent.

"All parties are united against the order and government should ensure that it is withdrawn immediately," said Sharad Yadav, head of the Janata Dal (United People's Forum) party.

But in yesterday’s ruling, the commission ordered all parties to appoint public information officers, who must respond to RTI applications within six weeks.

"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," the Commission said in a statement.

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 be accountable to the public," the statement added.

"Kickbacks and other corrupt practices have become part of our political culture, so much so that the entire system appears to be corrupt and hollow,” said Harijai Singh a senior political commentator  and former editor of India’s Tribune group of publications.

“The transparency of political parties should go a long way in controlling corruption.”

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Political parties that do not comply with the ruling could face de-commissioning by recommendation of the Commission, in line with Election Commission rules.

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