Whether or not political parties are public bodies, and consequently, subject to RTI cover, has been a charged debate so far. The Central Information Commission (CIC) ruled in 2013 that RTI liability applied to six national parties. But the present NDA government told the Supreme Court—as did the UPA government before it—that political parties were not public bodies and were not answerable under RTI. The Centre has also said that parties were already subject to transparency provisions under the Representation of the People Act and the I-T Act. It is political parties that form the government and are, at the very least, ideologically linked to the shaping and implementation of policy, done by spending public funds. They also receive subsidised land for party offices, free air-time on national broadcasters and many other benefits paid for by the state exchequer. But does RTI alone address the question of their transparency?
As far as funding goes—which is anyways what the average citizen would be mostly interested in—implementation of the recommendations of the Law Commission’s 255th report on electoral reforms could induce the financial transparency desired of the parties. For instance, getting them to disclose particulars of individual donations under R20,000 if such donations total more than R20 crore or making it mandatory for them to submit CAG-audited annual accounts to the Election Commission. Making them liable under the RTI Act—given parties won’t qualify for limited-application norms under the existing law—leaves them vulnerable to exploitative queries on non-financial matters. As long as measures like those suggested by the Law Commission are not enforced, the clamour for bringing parties under RTI will remain.