Political Parties and Probity

In a  significant development, the  State Information Commission (SIC)  has directed political parties in Jammu and Kashmir, including the ruling National Conference, to explain why they shouldn’t be declared as public authorities under the J&K Right to Information Act-2009. A full bench of the Commission, comprising of Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) GR Sufi, and Information Commissioners Dr S.K. Sharma and Nazir Ahmad, issued notices to the NC, the BJP, the Panthers Party and the Congress, and asked them to submit their replies, in response to a petition filed by Jammu-based RTI activists Balwinder Singh and Deepak Sharma. The petition had alleged that the political parties named had refused to disclose information under the J&K RTI Act 2009, and requested that the SIC bring them under RTI Act.

In September last year, Chief Minister Omar Abdullah had delivered a strong speech during a conference organized by the Central Information Commission (CIC) in New Delhi, and advocated bringing political parties under the provisions of the Act. The media, academicians, and civil society had appreciated his concerns and hoped that the Chief Minister would begin with his own party. It would have been salutary see the ruling National Conference have Public Information Officers appointed at its headquarters in Srinagar and Jammu.

But months have passed, and the party has hardly taken any steps to bring itself under RTI scrutiny. When activists from Jammu filed applications in the offices of various political parties like the NC, the PDP, the Congress, the Panthers Party and the BJP, seeking details about party funding, etc, the information was denied.

Having already won opprobrium for amending and diluting the RTI Act, Omar Abdullah’s Delhi speech had generated hopes of transparency and fair play, which now seem a distant dream.  Nobody knows anything about how, and by whom, political parties are funded.  The SIC has taken the right step by putting all the political parties on notice. Let them explain why they should not be brought under the purview of the Act. Declaring the finances of political parties in minute detail is just one step, though an important one, to curb the massive loot they have been inflicting on the subcontinent’s billions.