The Right to Information Act is an important piece of legislation. It forces the government and holders of public office to be transparent and accountable. This is important since ministers and government servants are paid from the public exchequer, that is, from the taxes paid by citizens. Hence the latter have a right to know about the activities of ministers, bureaucrats and others who receive public funds. This level of transparency and accountability is a healthy part of democracy. It should have become a part of Indian democracy from the beginning, but now, thanks to the campaign of a committed group of people, it has become an integral part of Indian public life. In more senses than one, the introduction of the RTI inaugurates a new era in Indian public life. It also allows the past to be prised open. Holders of public office now know that their actions and decisions are liable to be watched by contemporaries and posterity.
Readers of the previous paragraph would have noticed the repeated use of the word, public. At the heart of democracy for that matter, of any civilized mode of existence there is a distinction between what is public and what is private. To maintain this distinction, any person or body receiving public funds (or money from the exchequer) is deemed to be in the public domain. Any individual or body existing on money privately raised is not part of the public sphere. By this definition by no means a controversial one political parties are private organizations. It is only when a political party becomes a part of or forms a government, that part of it which is in the government becomes public. It is difficult to comprehend why political parties should come under the RTI. Some political parties enter the public domain, for example, when they contest elections, but they do so on their own resources and not on public resources. To bring political parties under the RTI is to erase the line that separates the private from the public. Once that line is removed, almost any organization clubs, sporting bodies, privately owned companies, private schools, NGOs and so on will fall under the jurisdiction of the RTI. Surely, this cannot be something healthy in a democracy. The government is opposed to political parties being brought under the ambit of the RTI even though the government most consistently transgresses the boundaries separating the private and the public.