Political parties are not public authorities, bringing them under RTI is a bad idea
On the face of things, the Central Information Commission’s (CIC) ruling that political parties are in a sense public authorities and so should be subject to the Right to Information (RTI) sounds sensible. After all, the CIC also argues, if the government is subject to RTI, so should the people who run the government, namely the political parties. Once political parties are under RTI, the logic goes, there will be a lot more transparency in the sources of their funding.
The problem with the argument, however, is that it can be stretched to any extent and is open to huge abuse. Include India Inc under RTI since, to quote from the CIC ruling, they “affect the lives of the citizens, directly or indirectly” and look at the havoc this will cause. Imagine a RTI query to a company asking it had followed due process while giving a contract to a particular vendor – such excessive scrutiny, it has to be kept in mind, is one of the main reasons for why PSUs are in the kind of trouble they are in today. Any vendor that doesn’t win a contract feels well within its rights to approach the courts to get a stay on the order put out by a quasi-public body. Indeed, this is the problem with the move to bring in PPPs under greater public scrutiny, from the CAG for instance, on grounds they are taxpayer-funded and affect the lives of citizens.
In the case of political parties, citizens who don’t like their functioning are free to not vote for them. When they are spending public money in government, the government is in any case under RTI. As for political funding which is a serious issue, there are other laws that need to be tightened to take care of this, RTI is no solution.