S. Narinder Singh
Responding to Supreme Court notice over application of Right to Information (RTI) Act to the political parties, the Centre has submitted that these be kept outside its purview as the Act would hamper their functioning. The Government plea is not justified and it is incomprehensible why such a concern is being shown over the functioning of political parties. The matter should have been left to the parties but the Governmental apprehension that the Act will be ‘misused’ by rivals to settle scores does not hold good in any way.
If politicians are honest and have clean image they need not to be scared about rivals misusing the Act for settling score. Actually, it is the unscrupulous politicians, whether in coalition or in the single party Governments, who indulge in corrupt or malpractices.
I recall Farooq Abdullah, former Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir and the Union Minister recently admitting publicly that politicians are liars, dishonest and hypocrite. The observations are not exaggeration, given the involvement of many reputed names in Indian politics in scams and scandals.
No doubt, there are already provisions under the Representation of the People’s Act and the Income Tax Act to bring transparency in the financial aspects of political parties yet the excuse of being kept out of the purview of RTI speaks of their double standards. What is the harm if the political parties too are brought under the provisions of the RTI Act to ensure more transparency? Everybody is equal before law and political parties are no exception. There are numerous organizations and agencies which don’t hesitate to be accountable before the people. Therefore, on priority political parties should be brought under the ambit of the provision of RTI Act.
The Central Information Commission (CIC) in 2013 had declared all the six parties (BJP, Congress, CPM, BSP, CPI & NCP) as public authorities. It is generally believed that transparency is good for all the state organs, but not so good for political parties, which in reality control all the vital organs of the state. CIC directed the parties to follow the RTI Act provisions. But the parties however refused to comply with the order that’s why Supreme Court intervened after the CIC expressed its inability to get the order implemented as it did not have the power to initiate contempt proceedings.
There are certain organizations like Hurriyat Conference in Jammu and Kashmir which indulge in anti-national activities. No doubt, existing laws deal with such criminals who work against the country and indulge in other unlawful activities but the outreach of RTI Act will empower the people to know real faces of those who flourish on their miseries. Since, all the political parties comprise politicians, so how they can be left out of the jurisdiction of RTI Act? Immense harm is being caused to public interest due to lack of transparency in the political system, as the electoral system is generating huge black money, large chunk of which is being spent during electioneering. It is quite strange that the politicians who become lawmakers after getting elected remain busy in keeping themselves out of the reach of law because of unlawful activities being committed by many.
The lawmakers from the various political parties are always busy to formulate laws for their own benefits instead of for general public. According to our system, a person becomes eligible for Government job after attaining education for about 20 years. The age for recruitment and retirement in respect of Government employees is fixed. But in the case of legislators or parliamentarians there is no limit of age. They virtually don’t retire. Not only this, they become entitled for pension soon after being elected as MLA/MP/MLC. In the case of the government employees, the period of service is specifically mentioned after which they are entitled for pension. Therefore, the mechanism of pension for the legislators and parliamentarians is needed to be reviewed and streamlined. There should be qualifying age for that—three to four complete terms minimum. Also such of the lawmakers, who draw their pensions in their former capacities as Government employees should be given an option to opt for continuing the old pension or to receive it in their capacities as former lawmakers. This will end the anamoly of two pensions, which is in vogue presently, casting strain on the State exchequer. They are even forced to fight for their rights of enhancement of their salaries as well as DA’s, but the law makers enhance their salaries and allowances out of proportion with ease. They find out ways and means to upgrade their privileges and facilities.
Generally, the main causes of the corruption are politicians i.e. ministers at the top. If the ministers are honest, no bureaucrat can dare to be corrupt. It is always nexus between the politicians at the top and bureaucrats who are responsible for rampant corruption in the society. After independence, corruption has penetrated into our blood. It can only be eradicated by the revolution of the people. In order to streamline the system, age and qualification of politician should be fixed for becoming MLA’s/MP’s. Ideally the law makers should to be law-graduates as they are required to legislate and make laws. This is a serious business which calls for qualified and expert persons to handle. Moreover members of the upper houses are generally the persons of high-repute in the field of art, literature and intellectuals. But in our system, those deprived of party mandate or who lose elections are generally accommodated in Rajya Sabha and Legislative Councils in the States. This is a wrong practice. They should be from the prescribed categories as per the provision of the Constitution of India.
To eradicate the menace of corruption and to enforce transparency and accountability, there is immense need of bringing political parties under the ambit of provisions of RTI Act. The Law Commission in its 170th report had also made recommendation for transparency in functioning of political parties, especially on internal democracy, financial transparency and accountability in their working. Apprehension that political rivals might file RTI application with malicious intentions should not come in the way of politicians being made liable to scrutiny.
(The author is former Director Information)
S. Narinder Singh