Reveal Information on Those Seeking Secrecy of Donors of Electoral Bond Scheme: CIC
Moneylife Digital Team 08 January 2020
In a historic decision, the Central Information Commission (CIC) has asked the government to reveal names of entities that have requested secrecy of donors identities in the electoral bond scheme.
 
Coming down heavily on the central public information officers (CPIOs) of the department of economic affairs (DEA), department of financial services (DFS), department of revenue (DR), and Election Commission of India (ECI), the central information commissioner, Suresh Chandra issued show cause notices as to why a penalty under Section 20(1) may not be imposed on each of them for failing to provide information within 30 days to the applicant. 
 
During earlier hearing on 1 October 2019, the CIC had asked CPIO of DEA to coordinate and consolidate the information and furnish the same to the appellant. "However, CPIO, Department of Economic Affairs had failed to do so and not discharged his responsibility with true spirit," the CIC noted in the order issued on 3 January 2020.
 
Right to Information (RTI) activist Venkatesh Nayak had filed an application with the DEA seeking information on representations revived by the government from donors regarding need for maintaining confidentiality of their identity while making donations to political parties. Mr Nayak, RTI research scholar and programme coordinator of Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), had also asked for copies of the representations or petitions and draft electoral bond scheme prepared by DEA for consultation with the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) and the ECI.
 
The CPIO of DEA did not give any reply. Dissatisfied with the non-response of the CPIO, Mr Nayak on 17 August 2017 filed his first appeal. The first appellate authority (FAA) disposed of the first appeal on 5 October 2017. Later on 6 November 2017, the CPIO of RBI replied to Mr Nayak stating that they did not have any information to give. Aggrieved by this, he filed a second appeal on 9 January 2018 before the Commission.
 
In his second appeal, Mr Nayak stated that replies given by four CPIOs were false and misleading. The FAA of RBI held that the information was not provided to Mr Nayak and since the content of the RTI application primarily concerned with the DEA, ECI and coordination section of DEA, the CPIO was directed to transfer the application to other CPIOs.
 
During the hearing on 1 October 2019, the CIC had asked DEA to co-ordinate with the DFS, ECI and provide consolidated reply to Mr Nayak within four weeks. Also since the CPIO of DFS had not given any reply to Mr Nayak, the CIC issued a hearing notice to the CPIO and others.
 
In next hearing on 10 December 2019, Mr Nayak submitted that on 4 November 2019, the CPIO of DFS has provided false and misleading information. He argued that all the respondents were passing the responsibility from each other but did not try to find out that information sought was exactly held by which department. He also stated that the information might be held by the DR but the DEA intentionally did not transfer the RTI application to revenue department. Therefore, he insisted for taking necessary action as per the provisions of the RTI Act as no information was provided so far.
 
Representatives of both the DFS and RBI contended that issue raised by Mr Nayak in his RTI application was not related to their department. While DFS sought to exempt itself from the case, RBI    contended that it searched records but could not find any information sought by Mr Nayak.
 
ECI representative while claiming that information sought in the RTI application was not available with it, submitted that "They receive political party contribution report and the same was also available on their website. They stated that they were ready to provide the political party contribution report, if the same was wanted by appellant."
 
Afer hearing all parties, and perusing records, Mr Chandra, the central information commissioner noted that the reply given by RBI is incomplete and directed the CPIO to be more cautions while while giving the reply or information to the RTI applications. Further the CPIO of RBI was asked to revisit the RTI application and give a self-explanatory reply or information to Mr Nayak as per the provisions of the RTI Act, within two weeks.
 
The Commission further noted that submissions or reply given by the DEA and ECI are vague and misleading. Mr Chandra then issued show cause notice to the CPIOs of DEA, DFS, DR and ECI and asked them to submit written explanation within three weeks.
 
Here is the order passed by the CIC...
 
Comments
m.prabhu.shankar
2 years ago
Good Start
Abhijit Kanjilal
2 years ago
Excellent. Keep the fight going. More energy to you people.
Meenal Mamdani
2 years ago
Very appropriate.
Political parties and their donors always want to keep this information under wraps. I think that the public must know the names of individuals or businesses that buy these bonds so later there can be scrutiny of the actions of the govt, vis-a-vis the donor.

All luck to RTI users but political parties the world over engage in all kinds of contortions to keep this information secret. So as soon as one route becomes visible, another route that is invisible is created.
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