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Omar for bringing political parties under purview of RTI Act
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NEW DELHI, Sep 3 (Agencies): Even as Parliament is considering to amend the RTI Act to exclude political parties from its ambit, Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah today made strong pitch for opening their records to the public through the transparency law.

In his valedictory speech at the eighth convention of the Central Information Commission, Omar said he was not sure whether his party would agree with his views but if political parties are availing Income Tax exemption, they should be accountable to the people.

"As of now, my party is not on that list of parties that have to be part of the right to information and I don't know whether my party will agree with what I have to say. But if they did ask me what I thought, I would believe it is justifiable for my party to come under the purview of the Right to Information," the Chief Minister said.

He said the Income Tax exempted to political parties could otherwise be used elsewhere for developmental work.

"...But I am not paying that income tax and therefore I should necessarily be accountable not just to the Election Commission, not just accountable to the Income Tax department but I should be accountable to the country," he said.

Stressing that he did not wish to pick a fight with other political parties, Omar said he does not see any problem in sharing records of day-to-day functioning of political parties with people.

"At the end of the day, nobody can force us to collect information that we don't ordinarily collect or that we don't ordinarily use in our day-to-day operations. As a political party, if there are records that I keep about functioning of my political party, then those records should be made available to the people. And if I don't keep those records, then I can't be forced," he said.

Omar also said while the political class claims to be the guardian or custodian of transparency, it looked a little strange that although its seeks transparency for everybody else but does not apply the same principle to themselves.

He said the same principle applies to other institutions and organisations which are availing Income Tax exemptions.

"Why should BCCI ask for the exemption from the Right to Information Act? By all means, take exemptions but then pay the Income Tax and make yourself at par with other organisations. You cannot have your own cake and eat it too," he said.

Omar said such organisations cannot say they would not pay Income Tax, take various concessions and at the same time would not open themselves to scrutiny.

The Chief Minister said the RTI Act has made him cautious regarding the use of state's assets.

"If you have certain amount of concern about how you are perceived, how you are seen, then yes the Right to Information will impact how you decide to function," he said.

Omar said he was far more casual about the use of state aircraft or helicopter till RTI application regarding the number of trips started coming to his office.

"Every time I have to take a flight, I sit back and ask myself: is there a commercial option I can exercise before I exercise the option of state aircraft and this is purely the result of the RTI Act because I know that at some point of time somebody is going to ask my Chief Information Commissioner to get this information about how many flights I have taken...Why should I then not amend?" he said.

The two-day convention had three technical sessions on RTI and inclusive growth, RTI-an anti-corruption tool and Media and RTI which were addressed by a number of eminent personalities.

Speaking at the session on RTI--an anti-corruption tool, former Chief Election Commissioner J M Lyngdoh spoke about about the need for electoral reforms and the role the RTI Act can play in that.
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News Updated at : Tuesday, September 3, 2013
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