Why political parties oppose being under RTI Act?

New Delhi, Sep 15 (IANS) One of the main reasons why the six national political parties are opposed to being brought under the RTI Act transparency law is that around 75 percent of their funds come from "unknown" and "undesirable" sources, an NGO has argued.

"One of the main reason why these parties are opposed to coming under the RTI Act is that around 75 percent of their funds come from unknown sources," Jagdeep Chhokar of the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) told IANS in an interview.

"It seems bulk of their funding comes from undesirable sources," he said.

According to an ADR analysis of the income tax returns and statements filed by parties with the Election Commission, most of the sources of funding of the six national political parties remain largely unknown. Out of the total income of the parties from 2004-05 to 2011-12 - Rs.4,895 crore - a staggering Rs.3,674 crore came from sources that were unknown, it said.

The finding comes in the light of stiff resistance to a CIC order bringing the political parties under the RTI Act.

The government even brought an amendment to negate the CIC order but it has been referred to a parliamentary standing committee for wider consultations after social activists protested.

Defending the amendments, Law Minister Kapil Sibal had said that political parties follow transparency norms by submitting information about their funds to the poll panel and the income tax authorities. He said that parties were association of people and hence not liable under to disclose information under the transparency law.

He had also said it would be difficult for parties to function if they were brought under RTI as people would then ask details on the process of giving tickets and seek confidential decisions.

"Unfortunately, full transparency is not possible under the current laws. It is only the RTI that can keep citizens informed," Chhokar argued.

"ADR recommends that full details of all donors should be made available for public scrutiny under the Right to Information Act," said Trilochan Sastry of the ADR.

"Why can't the public get to know about the funding of parties when this is the practice in many countries, including smaller ones like Nepal and Bhutan in our neighbourhood," Sastry added.

The parties whose data was analysed included the Congress, Bharatiya Janata Party, Communist Party of India-Marxist, Communist Party of India, Bahujan Samaj Party and Nationalist Congress Party.

The Congress said its funding was transparent and the the RTI issue needed a consensus among the parties.

"The funding of the Congress party is transparent. The RTI decision will happen when there is a consensus among all parties," Congress leader Rashid Alvi told IANS.

"We are not opposed to RTI. Our funds are open to scrutiny but not our internal decisions," CPI leader Gurudas Dasgupta told IANS.

The BJP refused to comment on the issue.

(Amit Agnihotri can be contacted at amit.a@ians.in)

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