The Central Information Commission’s decision to bring political parties in India under the ambit of Right to Information Act is a watershed moment in the crusade against political corruption and reinstating accountability in every day practice. The judgement by the full bench of the CIC, comprising the Chief Information Commissioner Satyananda Mishra and information commissioners M L Sharma and Annapurna Dixit, is bound to have a profound effect on the way politics is conducted in the country, with particulars such as funding and donation details, as well as facilitations and subsidies from central government in terms of cheap land allotment, airtime on public broadcasting services and income tax exemptions, now becoming subject to full disclosure under Section 2(h)(ii) of the RTI Act. The bench’s opinion that political parties, though not owned by the government, nevertheless, receive substantial help in cash and kind from the governments at the state and central levels, so as to merit being labelled ‘public authorities.’ Thus, their coming under the purview of the formidable RTI Act is imperative, which has been demonstrably proved to be a powerful tool in the hands of citizens of India demanding transparency and accountability in political affairs. This also means that from now on the parties, which according to the CIC bench, ‘affect the lives of the citizens, directly or indirectly in every conceivable way and are continuously engaged in performing public duties,’ will now have to produce the balance sheet of the transactions, thus ensuring, to a large extent, that clean money goes into financing their activities.
Essentially, the six parties that have been brought under the scope of RTI – Congress, BJP, CPI, CPM, NCP and the BSP – have been huge recipients of government donations and subsidies, and in spite of being technically non-governmental, have influenced, directly or indirectly, the exercise of government power. It is therefore a matter of enormous significance that for the first time, these unique institutions of the modern constitutional state are held accountable not just when they are in office, but also as political organisations, which have public presence, credence and wield influence in dictating public policies. The criticality of the roles played by these political parties in our democratic set up, in not only facilitating debates and discussions and framing policy decisions having wide-ranging impact, but also setting the agenda for the next level of debates and keeping the compass of legislations, laws and other acts as broad-ranging and inclusive as possible, is without a figment of doubt. Therefore, constitutional and legal provisions, as held by the CIC bench, make it obligatory that the political parties make it open to disclosure and public knowledge not just policies they advocate, but also the sources of their cash reserves, so as to steer clear of tendencies of having black money poured into their political coffers. Indeed, Indian citizens have reason to cheer for a truly groundbreaking resolution.