RTIs net – Political Parties IN, Sports Bodies still OUT

When the entire country is struggling with corruptions, scams, bettings, and maoists, the Central Information Commission (CIC) passed a land-mark judgement today which brings all Political Parties under the ambit of Right To Information (RTI) Act.  Since this is a land mark judgement and has many implications in future, let us analyse the facts and figures of the entire episode.

Complainants:

The case was filed by  Shri Subhash Chandra Agrawal (Shri S.C.Agrawal) and Shri Anil Bairwal separately a couple of years back. Since both the complaints are common with issues relating to the disclosure of the accounts and funding of Political Parties, CIC decided to  dispose both the complaints through a common order.

Respondents:

Six National political parties namely, Indian National Congress (INC)/ All India Congress Committee (AICC), Bhartiya Janata Party(BJP), Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPM), Communist Party of India(CPI), Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP).

Major Arguments by Political Parties:

Most of  the Political Parties maintained the fact that they do not come under the purview of RTI Act. Further, they (AICC and BJP in particular) also maintained the fact they are not Public Authorities, and, therefore are not obliged to provide any information under RTI. NCP in particular argued that it is an NGO (Non-Govt. Organization) and does not have fund and staff to reveal the information under RTI Act. Contrary to the above, CPI provided certain information to RTI applications (agreed to the fact that CPI is a Public Authority under 2(h)(d)(ii) “non-government organizations”, whereas no other political parties chose to respond to the RTI applications /queries. However, during the course of the argument, BSP also maintained the fact that Political Parties are not Public Authorities.

Most of the Political Parties argued that, the limited finance in terms of free air-time in Radio and TV, lands/plots allocated either free-of-cost or on rent, free electoral rolls provided to political parties during election, tax-exemption under Section 13 of Income Tax Act, are usual democratic practices in many democracies and do not constitute them as Public Authorities.

Major Arguments by Complainants:

  1. The Political Parties have been given statutory status under Section 29A of the Representation of the People Act, 1951. Under Section 29A (5) of the Representation of People Act, 1951, the Political Parties are required to bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution of India as by law established.

  2. The Political Parties are substantially financed by the ‘appropriate Government’ in multiple ways and are exempt from Income Tax.

  3. All the Political Parties have been claiming tax exemption under section 13A of the Income Tax Act, which amounts to indirect financing of the Political Parties in terms of Section 2(h)(d)(i) of the RTI Act. Further, since under section 80 GGB of the Income Tax Act, the contributions made by an individual or Company to a Political Party is deductible from the total income of the assesee. This provision is exclusively applicable to the Political Parties and is suggestive of indirect financing of the Political Parties by the State.

  4. State has been indirectly financing various Political Parties by way of free air  time on All India Radio. State is also spending huge amounts on the Political Parties in the matter of free air time on Doordarshan.

  5. Under Rules 11 and 12 of the Registration of Electors Rules, 1960, two copies of the Electoral Rolls are supplied to the recognized Political Parties, free of cost. This is another instance of indirect financing of the Political Parties by the State.

  6. The Central Government and the State Governments have allotted huge plots of land/buildings/other accommodation in prime locations to all Political Parties all over the country either, free of cost, or on hugely concessional rates. This also amounts to indirect financing of the Political Parties.

  7. It was further argued that the Political Parties must be accountable in the light of Reforms of Electoral Laws (1999) – “[…] A political party which does not respect democratic principles in its internal working cannot be expected to respect those principles in the governance of the country. It cannot be dictatorship internally and democratic in its functioning outside […]”. In addition “[…] Given that Political Parties influence the exercise of political power, transparency in their organization, functions and, more particularly, their means of funding is a democratic imperative, and, therefore, is in public interest […]”.

Bench:

Since the matter was complex a full bench comprising of Shri Satyananda Mishra, Chief Information Commissioner, Smt. Annapurna Dixit, Information Commissioner and Shri M.L. Sharma, Information Commissioner was constituted on 31st July, 2012.

Observations:

While pronouncing the judgement, the bench observed that-

  1. The Political Parties constitute one of the most important institutions in a constitutional democracy.

  2. The Political Parties have been given in our country such enormous powers and benefits, through both constitutional and statutory arrangements so that they can fulfill their just roles in representing their constituents.

  3. The Land & Development Office of the Ministry of Urban Development has allotted large tracts of land in Delhi to various Political Parties either free of cost or at concessional rates;  that the Directorate of Estates, Ministry of Urban Development, has allotted accommodation in Delhi to various Political Parties on rental basis at concessional rates; that Political Parties have been claiming and granted total tax exemption under section 13A of the Income Tax Act for all their income; that the State has been indirectly financing Political Parties by way of free air time on All India Radio and Doordarshan of India during the elections; that recognized Political Parties are issued copies of electoral rolls by the Election Commission, free of cost, at the time of elections.

  4. Section 2(h) of the RTI Act defines ‘public authority’ – “public authority” means any authority or body or institution of self-Government established or constituted, (a) by or under the Constitution; (b) by any other law made by Parliament; (c) by any other law made by State Legislature; (d) by notification issued or made by the appropriate Government, and includes any – (i) body owned, controlled or substantially financed; (ii) non-Government Organisation substantially financed, directly or indirectly by funds provided by the appropriate Government;”

  5. W.r.t. the above observations, it is to be noted that (a), (b), (c) and (d) are not directly applicable to Political Parties. […] However, it is pertinent to remember that the Political Parties have been brought into existence first as Political Parties and then as national level Political Parties by the Election Commission of India thereby entitling them to a host of benefits, the principal among them being the right to accept contribution from both individual citizens and private companies and also to get complete income tax exemption on all their incomes. The other important benefit that accrues to these Political Parties on account of their recognition by the Election Commission of India as national level Political Parties is the common symbol on which their candidates can contest elections. Thus, if not strictly within the letter of this particular provision (d), but at least, in spirit, these Political Parties can be said to have been constituted by their registration by the Election Commission of India, a fact akin to the establishment or constitution of a body or institution by an appropriate government.

  6. The bench further observed that the Political Parties are substantially financed by the Central Government and State Government in multiple ways; land is being provided at hugely concessional rates. The bench in its further considered opinion stated that, “amounts to indirect financing and when added to the income tax exemption enjoyed by these Political Parties, it would amount to substantial financing”.

  7. Since these Political Parties have not paid any income tax, the exact quantum of money that the Central Government has forgone in the process has not been worked out specifically. However, since the level of income of all these Political Parties would place them in the highest slab of income tax, at least 30% of their total income would have been collected as income tax but for the total exemption given to them by law. Thirty per cent of their income which these Political parties would have otherwise paid by way of income tax has been given up in their favour by the Central Government. No one can dispute that this is substantial financing, though indirectly.

  8. The bench has the opinion that “the Political Parties enjoy an almost unfettered exemption from payment of income tax, a benefit not enjoyed by any other charitable or non-profit non-governmental organisations”.

  9. The bench further noted that free air time given to Political Parties during election is actually money spent by the government for the political parties. Though the amounts may be small but they contribute to the kitty of Political Parties at the Government cost.

  10. Based on the above observations, the bench further emphasized that “[…] We have, therefore, no hesitation in concluding that INC/AICC, BJP, CPI(M), CPI, NCP and BSP have been substantially financed by the Central Government and, therefore, they are held to be public authorities under section 2(h) of the RTI Act […]”.

  11. The bench further maintained that “In view of the nature of public functions performed by Political Parties and the dicta of the High Court, we conclude that Political Parties in question are Public Authorities under section 2(h) of the RTI Act”.

Final Judgement:

After due deliberations and hearing to arguments and counter-arguments, the bench held that:

  1. “In view of the above discussion, we hold that INC, BJP, CPI(M), CPIO, NCP and BSP have been substantially financed by the Central Government under section 2(h)(ii) of the RTI Act. The criticality of the role being played by these Political Parties in our democratic set up and the nature of duties performed by them also point towards their public character, bringing them in the ambit of section 2(h). The constitutional and legal provisions discussed herein above also point towards their character as public authorities […] and it is held that AICC/INC, BJP, CPI(M), CPI, NCP and BSP are Public Authorities under section 2(h) of the RTI Act”.

  2. “The Presidents, General/Secretaries of these Political Parties are hereby directed to designate CPIOs and the Appellate Authorities at their headquarters in 06 weeks time. The CPIOs so appointed will respond to the RTI applications extracted in this order in 04 weeks time. Besides, the Presidents/General Secretaries of the above mentioned Political Parties are also directed to comply with the provisions of section 4(1) (b) of the RTI Act by way of making voluntary disclosures on the subjects mentioned in the said clause”.

After Effect

Now that the Political Parties are in, the question now arises whether or not the Sports Bodies such as Board of Cricket Control of India (BCCI), Hockey Federation of India should also come under RTI. These bodies also enjoys benefit from the central and state governments directly and indirectly (income tax-exemption, free/lease (at a concessional rate) land, entertainment tax-exemption during major matches, use of stadiums at a nominal rate, etc.), and should also be accountable to the citizens of this country. Owing to the arguments, counter- arguments and observations, don’t you think our popular Sports Bodies should also come under RTI ?

Aamjunta – what do you think?

Wish of an Aamjunta – to Wave Indian Flag in World-cup Football

With the line-ups for the world-cup football quarter-finals are drawn, one would be wondering what would have happened to the defending champion Italy and might France, England and Portugal after their respective losses in the world-cup. Every one including the Prime Ministers of their respective countries have witnessed the thrilling moments of the world-cup, be it Germany vs. England or Portugal vs. Spain, Slovakia vs. Italy or or some thing else. World-cup football has certainly attracted a huge number of viewers worldwide, both on-the field and off-the field. 🙂 And what about Indian viewers 🙂 ? It is worth mentioning here that India out numbered the world in world-cup football! Surprised? Hold on…

Yes, the number of Indian viewers have out numbered the viewers of all other countries in the world-cup. Looks like the football mania has also mesmerized the Indian viewers, true to the sense that football is a religion of its own type and is also a mega entertaining event! One will not be surprised to know that most of the viewers in India are pocketed – major sections are in West Bengal, Goa, Kerla, Tamil Nadu and North East states. Metros like Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata too have large viewers. States like Odisha, Chhatisgarh, Bihar, Rajasthan also are not lagging behind. The number of viewers is certainly comparable (yes/no??) with that of IPL (Indian Premier League) and world-cup cricket.

But, then… the point we are discussing here is different; we are concerned about India’s past and future in world-cup football, not in the number of viewers. Think of a nation, whose 33% or more of 1.20 billion population is under the age of 14, where Cricket is considered to be a religion of its own type, and cricketers are treated as Gods… On a different perspective, the same nation is far away from qualifying for the world-cup football. Does the population or the number viewers help India to qualify? No….

The statistics on viewer-ship of football is definitely impressive. But, then… who is the gainer from this large viewer-ship?: The TV channel broadcasting world-cup in India?, Indian Football Team?, Indian Football in general?, Indian products shown in through advertisements in the world-cup? or Indian (aamjunta) in general? Without much deliberations, my fellow aamjunta(s) will agree to the fact that it is the TV channel and the advertised products — gainer of this mega event. To some extent, FIFA is also in that side as it collects a huge amount of royalty fee and broadcasting fee from the TV channels. And the losers? Question is on you aamjunta to answer!

Let us look at some more statistics. As per FIFA/Coca-Cola world ranking, current world rank of India is 133. Impressive? or pathetic? Certainly impressive, if you are looking the world ranking in the last decade or so, but quite pathetic in general. We are certainly ahead of our neighbouring south Indian countries, but far behind small countries like Japan, Korea (both North and South) and even small island countries like Fiji and Cuba. Even Sierra Leone whose population is less than that of Odisha is way ahead in the ranking. It is not the end of the statistics! The deeper we will go, will feel bad, worse and the worst 😦

If you visit the pages of History, you will not be surprised to know how the glory of Indian football is fading day-by-day. Interestingly, India had qualified for the first time in 1950 for the football world-cup, where it could not play as their request to play bare-foot was turned down and due to India’s poor financial condition (long sea journey, instead of air journey). Still, up-to 1960, India was in a position to at-least qualify for the world-cup football or to the Olympic football. Now 50 years have passed, and now we are not even in a position to show our supremacy in South Asian football matches, forget about Olympic or World-cup. We still lose in our matches against Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and even tiny Maldives.

Like the aamjunta here, many such Indians and foreigners must be wondering what would be the reason for India’s pathetic rank in the world ranking? Is it due to our love or obsession towards cricket? or is it due to poor infrastructure? or is it due to politics in sports? or is it due to lack of talents? Certainly, one will not agree to the fact that we do not have talents. With more than 33% of India’s population under the age of 14, how can we say that we do not have talents? Getting 11 talented young players is not that tough. Yes, we do have talents, but we do not channelize them in the right direction. In addition, we do not have infrastructure, clear vision, and calculated action to take our football to a global stage. We fail providing coaches to our young footballers. All our plans and strategies do not go beyond metros and are short-termed as well as short-sighted. There is absolutely no incentive to our football players. With this kind of condition, only a few gifted like Baichung Bhutia can only manage to struggle and play in the intentional level. His concerns are too synchronised with the theme of this article.

“[…] I was lucky in that I got a scholarship due to football and we had coaches in school, but it wasn’t the same as European kids get. Most Indian kids have this passion but without the qualified coaches at the grass-roots level. […]

[…] If only they could catch players at a young age because I definitely see a lot of talent here – even more talented than English players at a young age. […]”

-Baichung Bhutia, Captain, Indian National Football Team

Politics too take a front seat in the entire sorry state of Indina football. With Mr. Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi as the president of AIFF (All India Football Association) for 20 years, one wonders what brings India to this stage. After his death Civil Aviation Minister Mr. Praful Patel took the charge of AIFF. When the Indian aviation sector itself is in a sorry state, what kind of corrective and affirmative action can he take for Indian football? But, it is surprising to know that Mr. Patel has already received some award and appreciation for the success of Indian football after taking over the charges. But, where is the success? In paper or in the football field?

To add, I strongly debate that the club football culture is also spoiling the future of football in India. Can you ever imagine a football match between East Bengal vs. Mohun Bagan played in the Salt-Lake Stadium, Kolkata goes without any street fighting? It cannot be. For the people there, these club teams are like religion or god to them. The matches are not only played in the ground, but also played in media, in hearts, in politics and even in streets. These are like life and death for many people there. To be honest, our over enthusiasm and our over reaction to loss or win in such kind of matches not only spoil the sporting spirit, but also put pressure to the team managements to hire better foreign players for these clubs. Does this help Indian football in any way to rise? I doubt. Don’t you see that the football capital of India is busy only to satisfy the local fans? In fact, like club football, the IPLs in cricket too have spoiled the cricketing spirit and the result of this is already being witnessed in the T-20 world-cup cricket 2010.

Saying all these things, we the aamjunta cannot go scot free for the sorry state of Indian football. We never give due respect to even our successful footballers (not only footballers, even Olympic medallists and our National Hockey Team), where at the same time we are crazy even on our failed cricketers. What surprised me is our attitude towards sports other than cricket. Every second child in India is encouraged to play cricket, neither football and nor hockey even (forget about athletics). We are just ignorant in many cases, but yes, we are good viewers and are fans of European football clubs and South American/European football teams. At the time of world-cup, even the Indian fans of Argentina and Germany or fans of Brazil and Portugal are seen in street fights. Then, what made us not to make our very own football team and support them in the world-cup? Certainly it is not a day’s job, not even a year’s job; it requires at least a decade’s planning and vision, a good manager (not a politician, who is busy with so many other things), a dedicated and disciplined team, a good coach and supporting staff, facilities and above all our attitude change . 🙂

Hope India will reach that stage one day and wish, I will wave Indian flag in the 2014 world-cup and its subsequent editions. A long way for the Indian team and for India to go though.

Jai Hind.

but we do not have infrastructure, clear vision, and action to take our football to a global power
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