The CIC has said that details of donation received by electoral trusts and their further distribution to political parties are neither personal information nor held by the Income Tax Department in fiduciary capacity. The order is aimed for ensuring transparency in electoral funding.
The Central Information Commission (CIC) has directed the I-T Department to make public the list of electoral trusts formed during 10 years since 2003-04 and whether they received income tax exemptions.
A division bench of the Commission also directed the department to take views of these trusts on furnishing the details of contributions received by them which have been further distributed to political parties.
It said the CIC direction to disclose Income Tax returns of the political parties became final as that was neither challenged nor reversed. This means the details of contributions to political parties from electoral trust are supposed to be disclosed.
Similarly, the financial resources of electoral trust cannot be classified under any category of secrecy or be exempted under any clause of Section 8 of the RTI Act," the Bench held.
Hence, it said, the details of contributions received by the electoral trusts and distributed to political parties is neither given in fiduciary capacity nor can be considered personal information. Section 11 of the RTI Act requires to take view of the third party before any decision on disclosing information related to them is arrived at.
Notably, the I-T Department had refused to disclose the information sought by an applicant three years ago, saying the information about trusts is a "personal information" and held by it in a "fiduciary capacity" and there was no public interest in its disclosure.
The RTI Act allows disclosure of such information, if there is a larger public interest involved in it. Electoral trusts are non-profit companies established for receipt of donations from person or a company and distributing the same to political parties.
The trusts get income tax exemptions as well. During the hearing, the appellant brought to the notice of the Commission that General Electoral Trust donated a total of Rs 131.65 crore to seven political parties during financial year 2014-15.
The appellant, Neeti Biyani, contended that the details of those who donated to the trust is unknown. The Bench comprising Information Commissioners Basant Seth and Sridhar Acharyulu directed the department to disclose within two months the names and addresses of all the electoral trusts and other charitable trusts formed between 2003-04 and 2013-14 and whether they claimed exemption from Income Tax and if it was given along with reasons.
"The I-T Department holds the information furnished by the electoral trusts for the benefit of democracy and people at large and disclosure of such information will serve the benefit of those beneficiaries and hence it should be disclosed," the Bench held.