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Political parties win immunity: Cabinet gives nod to amend RTI Act

Providing immunity to political parties from Right to Information Act (RTI), the Cabinet on Thursday gave its nod to amend the transparency law to keep them out of its ambit by declaring that they are not public authorities.

The Cabinet decision came nearly two months after the Central Information Commission's order of bringing six national political parties--Congress, BJP, NCP, CPI-M, CPI and BSP--under the RTI Act.

The decision to amend the RTI Act was taken during a Cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh here, official sources said.

The amendments state that declaring political parties as public authorities under the RTI would "hamper their smooth internal functioning since it will encourage political rivals to file RTI applications with malicious intentions".

They maintain that the Representation of the People Act and the Income Tax Act provide sufficient transparency regarding financial aspects of political parties, it is learnt.

Under Section 2 of the RTI Act, the definition of public authority in the proposed amendment will make it clear that "it shall not include any political party registered under the Representation of the Peoples Act", the sources said.

As proposed earlier, political parties may not be added in the list of organisations (Section 8) exempted from parting information under the information act.

During the Cabinet meeting, some members including Petroleum and Natural Gas minister Veerapa Moily were of the opinion that the people should know that amending the law was not an unilateral move by the Government but was based on consensus among all political parties, they said. 

The CIC had in its order on June 3 held that the six national parties have been substantially funded indirectly by the central government and were required to appoint Public Information Officers (PIOs) as they have the character of a public authority under the RTI Act.

The decision from transparency watchdog evoked sharp reactions from political parties, especially Congress which has been credited with bringing in the transparency law but is opposed to the CIC's directive.

The Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT), which acts as nodal department for the implementation of the RTI Act, in consultation with Law Ministry decided to amend the law.

The government seeks to change the definition of public authorities mentioned under Section 2 of the RTI Act to keep all recognised political parties out of the jurisdiction of RTI, the sources said.

The government will have to introduce a Bill in this regard in the monsoon session of Parliament beginning Monday, they said. 

The Centre's flagship Right to Information Act empowers a citizen to seek time-bound information on all matters of governance by paying a fee of Rs 10. 

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