ML Sharma and former UN official Annapurna Dixit, both Information Commissioners, has given a landmark ruling to bring six national political parties including the Congress and the BJP under the RTI ambit. Interestingly, the ruling has united the political parties, which have steadfastly opposed the Central Information Commission’s attempt to bring transparency in the functioning and funding of political parties which get indirect aid from the government in terms of concessional land at prime locations. Here are more about Mishra, Sharma and Dixit, and also about the ruling which has shaken the political establishment.
First, excerpts of the ruling:
“We have 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.”
“It would be odd to argue that transparency is good for all State organs but not so good for political parties, which, in reality, control all the vital organs of the State.”
“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.”
The CIC ruling was pronounced by a full bench comprising Mishra, Sharma and Dixit.
Mishra, a 1973 batch Madhya Pradesh cadre IAS, was the DoPT secretary when he joined the CIC first as an Information Commissioner. A soft-spoken bureaucrat who understands the nuances of the government rules thanks to his long innings in the personnel ministry and many other government departments, was made the RTI chief two and half years ago when Wajahat Habibullah had retired.
Originally hailing from Odisha, Mishra is unusually a non-controversial civil servant. He keeps his Guru’s photo in his office cabin.
Sharma who was also the part of the bench giving the controversial ruling is a former IPS officer of 1972 batch. He had worked as additional director general in Border Security Force (BSF) and then as special director in Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). He belonged to Rajasthan cadre.
Ms Dixit had two decades long experience in working with the India office of the United Nations Children’s Fund before joining the CIC. She had extensively worked in designing of the UN Children’s Fund’s programmes meant for women and children belonging to India’s North-East.