Why should the BJP parliamentary party not be declared a public authority and brought under the ambit of the RTI Act? That’s the poser from the Central Information Commission (CIC), which has asked the party’s chief whip in the Lok Sabha, the leader, deputy leader of the House or “any other authorised representative” to reply on the issue at 2 pm on September 7. The CIC’s recent query follows an RTI application filed by Vishnu Dev Bhandari from Bihar who wanted to know how projects are chosen under the MP Local Area Development Scheme (MPLADS) and their progress in his constituency Madhubani, represented by the BJP’s Hukumdev Narayan Yadav. While Information Commissioner Sridhar Acharyulu’s recent order specifically addresses the BJP and was sent to ‘The Secretary, BJP Parliamentary Party’, it also brings in other political parties in its observations. According to the order, every legislature and parliamentary party shall be considered a “public authority” in principle. Therefore, the Commission has also asked other political parties with legislature wings in state assemblies and in Parliament for their opinion on why they should not be brought under the RTI Act.
However, they are not bound to reply, unlike the BJP which has been given the September 7 deadline. The CIC has also asked civil society members to express their opinions and contentions and send them to the id, email@example.com before September 8. RTI applicant Bhandari’s complaint came to the CIC after the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation did not respond. His appeal to senior ministry officials also went unheard. Every MP gets Rs 5 crore per annum for local area development. This comes from tax payers’ money, the information commissioner noted at the hearing. Representatives of the ministry told the Commission that actual progress on the field could be ascertained only by local authorities like the district magistrate. “Regarding how the works were chosen, the officers said that it was totally at the discretion of the concerned MP and no authority could intervene in it,” Acharyulu pointed out. He said the information is “partly held” by the ministry, district collectors and magistrates in the constituency, the Member of Parliament and his legislature party, if they have any guidelines or policy regarding allocation of funds. Acharyulu also directed the ministry and district collectors to answer the petition in 30 days.
Besides, Hukumdev Yadav’s private secretary was directed to furnish details of the work recommended by him, the criterion of selection or rejection and progress of the work before September 7. “Considering the possibility of policy of guidelines being issued from the Parliamentary Party of the BJP, in which the concerned MP is the member, invites the views and contentions of the Government Chief Whip, the Leader, and the Deputy Leader (LS) of BJP, or any other authorised representative as to why the BJP Parliamentary Party should not be declared as a public authority under Section 2(h) of the RTI Act on September 7, 2017 at 2 PM,” the order said. The Commission has recommended voluntarily disclosure of the criterion for selection of works under MPLADs, along with constituency wise work list and their progress on the party website, the order stated. Other parties also have the “moral, legal and constitutional obligation” to disclose “at least” MPLADS information on their own, it said. Under the RTI Act, public authority means any body or institution established or constituted by or under the Constitution, or by any other law made by Parliament.