Bring political parties under RTI, say activists...
Due to 100 per cent tax exemption on their incomes, six major political parties saved Rs 510.02 crore between 2006-09, activists said on Thursday, and demanded these be declared as "public authority" and brought under the RTI Act.
The Congress party got the maximum exemption of Rs 300.92 crore, followed by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which saved Rs 141.25 crore in taxes, a data compiled by activist groups Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) and National Election Watch (NEW) showed.
Activists said as political parties in the country are indirectly funded by tax payers' money, they should be brought under the Right to Information Act (RTI).
The exemption is given under provisions of Section 13(A) of the Income Tax Act.
This was a part of information provided to the Central Information Commission (CIC) by the ADR and NEW, which asked the panel to declare political parties as "public authority" and bring them under the RTI Act.
"The definition of public authorities under the Section 2(h) of the RTI includes any 'non-government organisation substantially financed, directly or indirectly by funds provided by the appropriate government'," explained Jagdeep Chhokar, founder member of ADR and NEW.
"Indirectly by the...means of tax exemption, land allotted and other facilities, political parties are indirectly funded by taxpayers' money, and should come under right to information," he says.
The tax rebates enjoyed by four other national political parties during the same time period are: Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) Rs 39.84 crore, Communist Party of India (Marxist) Rs 18.13 crore, Communist Party of India Rs 24 crore, and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) Rs 9.64 crore.
Besides, as per the union urban development ministry, there is a well-defined policy for allotment of land to the political parties. Political parties, accordingly, have been allotted large sized plots of lands in Delhi.
As per calculation by the activist groups, these plots of land based on "highly conservative rate" show that the value of land held by the Congress stands at Rs.231 crore and that of BJP is Rs 117.35 crore. The values of land possessed by other parties are: CPI(M) Rs 50.75 crore, CPI Rs 16.91 crore, NCP Rs 13.6 crore and BSP Rs 27.20 crore.
The cumulative value of the land that is in possession of these six national parties stands at Rs 456.91 crore.
The activists also pointed out that free slots are given to advertisements by political parties on state-run Doordarshan (national broadcaster) and All India Radio during election time for advertising.
"They are being indirectly financed by the public money, so political parties should be declared public authority under the RTI," Chhokar said.
A hearing was held by the CIC Wednesday. However, except for CPI leader D. Raja, and a lawyer representing the NCP, none of the other parties sent their representatives.
"Not only did most political parties not bother to come, they did not even give a clarification," ADR's national coordinator Anil Bairwal told IANS.
"This is the typical attitude of political parties. The CIC is a constitutional body, but did not even send any intimation or information," the activist said.
He added that the CIC has said political parties will be given "one more chance if they want to come and present their case". No date for the second hearing was given.