PIL- Strictures by the Court
The Indian Express today is carrying a piece by Madhav Khosla on the recent rejection of a PIL by SC of ADR for directions to be issued to political parties to submit their income-tax returns. He takes the opportunity to critically analyse the shift in the approach of entertaining PIL by the supreme court and qualifies this rejection as innocuous.
The petition was rejected by the court, as per news paper reports, for reasons that the petititoner is taking the opportunity of forthcoming elections to gain mileage. The law mandates poltical parties to submit yearly return and the provision has the rationale of transparancy, which is very vital for any democracy. The sways of political parties while in government could be determined by the quarters from which funds flow into their account.
The PIL was for the issuance of a direction for performing a legal duty (S. 29 C of the RP Act 1951). Court refused to entertain the matter also citing that if a political party fails to submit a return, law will take its course as how it will treat a person when fails to file a return. Here the court failed to appreciate that the court themselves have given grand lectures on the corretalationship between political parties and democracy as to how sun should shine through the hallway of political parties to keep it disinfected. They forgot the vital distinction between person and political party in the context of democracy.
One could very well argue that it is not the duty of the court, but there should be other agencies to take care of the matter, and I thought it is exactly that ADR should be asking for. I deeply wish ADR or people who have access to information will bring out how many political parties have so far filed returns and what actions the IT authorities have taken on it.
The reading of the section shows that the only sanction would be that the parties will not get tax relief and it can be qualified as toothless.
(3) The report for a financial year under sub-section (1) shall be submitted by the treasurer of a political party or any other person authorised by the political party in this behalf before the due date for furnishing a return of its income of that financial year under section 139 of the Income-tax Act, 1961 (43 of 1961), to the Election Commission.
(4) Where the treasurer of any political party or any other person authorised by the political party in this behalf fails to submit a report under sub-section (3) then, notwithstanding anything contained in the Income-tax Act, 1961 (43 of 1961), such political party shall not be entitled to any tax relief under that Act.
Section 29 C comes under the chapter heading, Registration of Political Parties. The live debate about the power of de-registration of political parties for non- compliance of provisions garners importance here. Lest, this condition of filing returns will remian a misnomer and only saving grace would be the CIC's order that returns of political parties are public documents coming under the purview of RTI.