New Delhi: The Cabinet on Thursday cleared the proposal to keep political parties out of the ambit of the Right to Information Act (RTI). Following the clearance, an ordinance to amend the RTI Act will be prepared to declare that political parties are not public authorities. If the ordinance is passed by Parliament, political parties will no longer be answerable to RTI queries.
The amendments state that declaring political parties as public authorities under the RTI would "hamper their smooth internal functioning since it will encourage political rivals to file RTI applications with malicious intentions".
While most political parties have already given their consent to the proposed amendments, sources said on Thursday that Union Minister of Petroleum and Natural Gas M Veerappa Moily was against them. He reportedly said that it was no time to amend the RTI Act.
Union Urban Development Minister Kamal Nath had to explain to Moily that the amendments were being proposed because all political parties wanted it, the sources said.
The Cabinet's move came a month after the Central Information Commission (CIC) held that six national parties - Congress, BJP, NCP, CPI-M, CPI and BSP - are substantially funded indirectly by the Central government and are required to appoint public information officers as they have the character of a public authority under the RTI Act.
The sources had earlier said the Law Ministry had cleared the ordinance route to amend the RTI Act. But since the dates of the Monsoon Session had been announced and some parties had expressed uneasiness over supporting the ordinance route, the government had decided to bring a bill before Parliament instead.
The sources had also said that back channel talks with all major parties had concluded. The BJP, however, had been maintaining that it would be difficult for it to support the ordinance route to amend the RTI Act as it was opposing the ordinance on Food Security.
The RTI Act empowers a citizen to seek time-bound information on all matters of governance by paying a fee of Rs 10.
The Cabinet also gave post-facto approval to official amendments in the Whistleblowers Protection Bill, which seeks to keep information that could compromise strategic and economic interests and impact foreign relations out of the ambit of the proposed law, aimed at protection of whistleblowers from harassment.
Some official amendments to the Bill, which came up for consideration on August 14 last year in Rajya Sabha, could not be considered as the House was.
The Bill seeks to set up a regular mechanism to encourage people to disclose information on corruption or willful misuse of power by public servants, including ministers. The Whistleblowers' Protection Bill, 2012 was approved by Lok Sabha without a debate in 2011.
(With additional information from PTI)