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Political parties under RTI: CIC puts matter in ‘abeyance’

LiveMint logoLiveMint 02-04-2017 PTI

New Delhi: Chief information commissioner R.K. Mathur has directed to keep "in abeyance" the matter pertaining to political parties not adhering to the Right to Information Act, thus putting the controversial issue in cold storage.

The note, in this regard, was issued after Bimal Julka, one of the members of the bench hearing the case, recused himself on 23 December, 2016. "Till the bench is reconstituted or a decision taken on IC (BJ) note, the proceedings may temporarily remain in abeyance," Mathur had stated on 29 December, 2016.

Nearly three months later, there is no word on replacement of Julka in the bench and the matter hangs in a limbo. The file notings have now been disclosed by the Central Information Commission (CIC) under the Right to Information (RTI) Act to activist R.K. Jain, who had filed a complaint against political parties.

Mathur's direction to keep the hearing in abeyance comes inspite of a 2014 order of the Delhi high court to the commission to decide within six months the complaint filed by Jain. The activist has alleged that the parties were not replying to RTI applications and have not put in place any infrastructure mandated under the RTI Act.

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Six parties including Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Congress, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), Communist Party of India (CPI) and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) were brought under the ambit of the RTI Act by a full bench of the commission on 3 June, 2013. This order was neither challenged in a high court nor changed but the political parties have refused to entertain the RTI applications directed at them.

Jain used section 18 of the RTI Act which allows a petitioner to file a case against a public authority if his application is not responded to within 30 days or if the public authority has not put in place mandatory infrastructure to handle the applications. The commission under this mechanism can slap a penalty, maximum of Rs25,000, on the public authority if it is reasonably satisfied about the guilt of the authority.

The complaint of Jain against political parties was being heard by a full bench comprising of information commissioners Sridhar Acharyulu, Sudhir Bhargava and Bimal Julka. The bench started hearing the case on 22 July, 2016 and within six months, Julka abruptly recused himself from the bench citing work in his own registry.

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