'If political parties are not NGOs, are they government?'

Sep 05 2013, 10:06 IST
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SummaryThe government was always for withholding information.

Satyananda Mishra, who retired as chief information commissioner on Wednesday, discusses the RTI Act and parties’ attitude to it in this interview to Shyamlal Yadav

Having served both in government and in the Central Information Commission, what has your experience of clashes between the government and the transparency body been like?

I must admit there is much tension between the government and the commission, also between seekers of information and the commission. I do not see anything unreasonable and unexpected in this. The government was always for withholding information. It was only after the RTI Act that a system evolved to share information. People are realising there is no way out, but the tension and opposition remain.

The government amended the RTI Act to nullify your order declaring political parties public authorities.

When the matter was being heard, some parties appeared before us and we had a feeling that they were not happy with the fact that the matter was being heard by the CIC. But the reaction was unexpected since we had thought they would accept it.

Now that you have retired, how do you look back on that order?

The decision was entirely objective and based on the provisions of the RTI Act. The people who made the Act expanded the limits of right to information much wider than other countries have done. What is called information, what is called public authority, all is defined. When the Act was being prepared and public authority being defined, wittingly or unwittingly the government got NGOs included provided they are substantially financed, directly or indirectly, by the government.

Aren’t political parties different from NGOs?

These parties are registered, they are voluntary associations. Therefore there is no doubt that they are NGOs. I hear comments that political parties are not NGOs. Then what are they? Are they government? Either they are government organisations or they are non-governmental organisations. There is no third category. Even a corporate house, for the purpose of the RTI Act, will be considered an NGO.

Now the question is whether the parties are substantially financed or not. In our order, we did not declare them substantially financed merely because they have got some land and some building. They have a value. Under the Income Tax Act, political parties get exemption. That exemption is almost unconditional. Some other NGOs too get exemptions from income tax but conditionally. If they spend a single rupee of the

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