Francis Underwood, the protagonist of Netflix’s popular show, House of Cards, was often heard saying, “What a shame, he chose money over power.” In a country like India where corruption is that extra-marital affair that politicians are known to romance, both money and power come in quite handy. However, over the past decade these politicians have dreaded their ongoing and past honeymoon with corruption on account of a law implemented, especially one critical to that of Indian democracy: The Right to Information Act (RTI). Back in 2012, Lalit Modi in a tweet highlighted a letter which was allegedly written by the then BCCI President N Srinivasan to Arun Jaitley opposing a few parts of the National Sport Bill requesting to prohibit BCCI from coming under the RTI. Though both N. Srinivasan and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley rubbished the allegation, BCCI has managed to find its way out of RTI proceedings.
Earlier this year, Prashant Bhushan, lawyer and former member of the Aam Aadmi Party had filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) asking six national parties including that of the Congress and BJP as to why they cannot be brought under the ambit of the RTI. In response, there was an affidavit filed by the Modi Government which objected firmly to the idea stating reasons that if political parties and public authority come under the RTI, it will hamper with their smooth functioning. They further added that the RTI may also be then misused as a weapon by rival political parties to meet their personal interests against one another. BJP Union Minister, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi further went on to state that internal discussions of the party and ticket distribution are confidential affairs of the party and hence questions its presence under the RTI. The Congress too expressed their reservations on coming under the RTI scanner when P.C Chacko issued a statement saying that the Congress and the Left function democratically and hence shielding them under democracy further added that they have their right to maintain their confidentiality. As per the rules, political parties in India are supposed to file annual income and expenditure statements with the Election Commission. All contributions above Rs 20,000, with the names, addresses and PAN numbers of the donors, have to be submitted to the EC. Analysis by the Association of Democratic Reforms (ADR), however, show that most parties circumvent this rule by attributing large portions of their income to contributions less than Rs 20,000, with PAN numbers, addresses and names often missing. According to the ADR, 73.5 percent of the BJP’s funds between 2004 and 2011, amounting to Rs 952 crore, came from unknown sources either because the amounts were listed below Rs 20,000 or information about its major donors were incomplete. The Congress, however, led the way with Rs 1,951 crore. The influence of party funding on government policy is apparent. Greater transparency is, therefore, the need of the hour, since it is the common man who has entrusted the government to spend his/her hard-earned taxpayer money.
Post-2005, the RTI has ensured greater tabs on the Central Government and their corrupt officials with intricate examinations and scrutiny ensured by the act and the activists who claimed their right to information. However, on one hand where corruption has been curtailed to a certain extent, the RTI has also created a path to <g data-gr-id="40">settle</g> old scores as a medium of vengeance. Many blackmailers disguised as media persons and RTI activists have gone on to encash the RTI transparency in exchange for benefits to make a living, giving it a bad reputation among public authorities. This has also led to a decline in enthusiasm as far as the civil society is concerned as some renowned RTI activists have made their way to politics or other important areas of research. The experiment through RTI started with rage and immense force backed by a rare number of political leaders and the media in 2005. If it was not for the RTI, scams such as the 2G, Commonwealth Games, ex-President, Pratibha Patil’s land controversy, kerosene scam in Odisha and many more wouldn’t make its way out of darkness. Even though it’s been a decade of hard work and perseverance as Robert Frost once said, “There are miles to go before I sleep and miles to go before I sleep.”