Thursday, May 01, 2008

You can ask for I-T returns of political parties

CIC Allows It Under RTI Act


New Delhi: In a ruling that will open financial activities of political parties to public scrutiny, the Central Information Commission has said citizens can seek income tax returns of the parties to get details on their funding.

he landmark decision, bringing political parties within the ambit of the RTI Act, came on an appeal of an NGO — Association of Democratic Reforms — seeking disclosure of income tax returns and assessment orders pertaining to such organizations.

“The laws of the land do not make it mandatory for politi
cal parties to disclose sources of their funding and even less so the manner of expending those funds. In the absence of such laws, the only way a citizen can gain access to the details of funding of political parties is through I-T returns filed annually with I-T authorities,” information commissioner A N Tiwari said.

CIC said since political parties influence the exercise of political power, transparency in their organization and functions, and more particularly, their means of funding is a democratic imperative and, therefore, is in public interest.

“There is unmistakable public interest in knowing
these funding details which would enable the citizen to make an informed choice about the political parties to vote for,” CIC said in its 24-page order. I-T authorities, in response to the plea, claimed that the information, containing details on commercial activities of political parties, were exempt under the RTI Act. They said that I-T returns were “confidential” in nature as they were submitted by the assessees in fiduciary capacity. Referring to various rulings of the Supreme Court — bringing transparency in the functioning of political parties and their funding — CIC held that every citizen is entitled to seek information from the I-T department, either under I-T Act or RTI Act. It, however, held that permanent account number of those parties, whose I-T returns are to be sought, should not be disclosed as there was a possibility of the information being subjected to fraudulent use.

All parties except CPI and CPM had objected to disclosure of information on their I-T returns. Congress had termed the appellant as “busybody having malafide intent” and accused it of seeking information for “ulterior motives”. BJP claimed I-T returns were confidential information, parting with which would amount to infringement of certain privacy rights of the members of the political parties. The response of as many as 20 political parties had come on the notices issued by CIC. The law and justice ministry, however, had refused to express its opinion on the subject saying its views could be in conflict with the interest of the public authority against whom CIC may pass an order in this regard.

Earlier, the EC had said political parties were not required to furnish information about their I-T returns to it under the law. PTI


NAYSAYERS

Income tax dept says I-T returns are confidential in nature and exempted under RTI Act
Election Commission says parties not bound by law to disclose I-T returns to it
Law ministry withholds opinion, saying its views could be in conflict with the interest of the public authority against whom CIC may pass an order
Except CPM and CPI, other parties oppose disclosure of I-T returns

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