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Reported by ibnlive.in.com on 11 July 2013

Govt contemplating an amended act to keep parties out of RTI ambit: Sources

 

Govt contemplating an amended act to keep parties out of RTI ambit: Sources

 

New Delhi: The government is contemplating an amended act, which will exempt all political parties from the ambit of Right to Information Act, sources said on Thursday. The government has faced a lot of flak for planning to bring in an ordinance to keep political parties out of the RTI ambit.

 

The Bill is likely to be introduced in the Monsoon Session of Parliament and most parties have agreed to be out of the RTI cover. In a landmark decision, the Chief Information Commissioner had ruled all political parties will come under the ambit of the Right to Information Act. The ruling provides for greater transparency in the working of the political parties as now the public has the right to get information about their functioning and funding.

 

However, political parties came out opposing the CIC's order with the Janata Dal United and the Communist Party of India - Marxist slamming the decision saying the CIC exceeded its brief. Even the Congress hit out at the proposal with Minister for Information and Broadcasting Manish Tewari saying CIC's order is "a bit of a stretch."

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Reported by Vineeta Deshmukh in moneylife.in on 11 July 2013

Gujarat citizens show the way; vote in publicly kept ballot boxes against Ordinance to keep political parties out of RTI - Moneylife

 

Gujarat citizens show the way; vote in publicly kept ballot boxes against Ordinance to keep political parties out of RTI

 

8,000 citizens have voted against the government’s ordinance to keep political parties outside the RTI ambit; Gujarat activists working overtime to spread awareness and participation

 

Bhadresh Wamja, a teenager from Saladi village in Gujarat who created history by using the Right to Information (RTI) Act to streamline the Public Distribution System (PDS) in his village, has begun a drive to collect as many ballot papers (created for the purpose) by encouraging citizens to put in their vote of whether they want an Ordinance passed by the government to keep political parties out of the ambit of RTI Act.

 

Pangti Jog, member of the Mahiti Adhikar Gujarat Pahel (MAG), an organisation dedicated to RTI activities is steering this state-wide campaign. She says that, “More than 8,000 people have voted against... not a single vote for the amendment or in favour of political parties. We are planning to collect over 50,000 votes. We are also starting an email campaign today, where citizens will send an email to the president. We are hoping to send more than 1,000 such emails before 15th July by when political parties have to appoint PIO and Appellate Authorities and abide by suo motu Section 4 disclosures, as per CIC order of 3rd June. Already more than 500 people have sent emails to the president requesting not to sign any ordinance.”

 

Besides, several citizen groups across Gujarat are protesting against the government’s intention to dilute RTI act, to exclude political parties. Ms Jog states that ballot papers are being circulated to citizen groups across state which are actively working for RTI awareness and promotion.

 

Citizen groups in Surat are holding outreach programmes in public gardens and colleges by having signature campaigns. Other activities include requesting eminent citizens to send letters to editors; calling upon elected representatives and starting e-petitions.

The ballot boxes will be sent to the Speaker of the Lok Sabha, says Ms Jog, with a note that, “As our representatives are amending RTI without taking our consent... we are compelled to send our votes directly.”

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Reported by Amrita Joshi, Anjali Bhardwaj & Shekhar Singh in timesofindia.indiatimes.com on 12 July 2013

Open political parties to public scrutiny - The Times of India

 

Open political parties to public scrutiny

 

The government's widely reported intention to promulgate an ordinance to nullify a recent order of the Central Information Commission (CIC) confirming that six national political parties are subject to the Right to Information Act, is condemnable on many counts. It is also amusing that the government proposes to bring in an ordinance, bypassing Parliament, even on a matter that seems to have the support of all major political parties.

 

It is surprising that the government considers the application of the RTI Act on political parties a circumstance that 'renders it necessary to take immediate action' — for that is the sole justification allowed by the Constitution to promulgate an ordinance while Parliament is not in session.

 

Whatever be the legal merits of the CIC's order, there can be no question that governance in India can never be accountable to the people unless political parties, who are at the core of it, are accountable to people. And to argue that political parties are accountable to the people every five years, when they seek votes, is to argue that governments are also accountable to the people when they seek re-election. Therefore, neither needs a transparency law.

 

Yet these very political parties talked about participatory democracy and passed the RTI Act so that Indians did not have to wait to seek accountability from their ruling party once in five years. Then why should they now baulk at the same logic being applied to all the parties?

 

The preamble to the RTI Act states that "democracy requires an informed citizenry". Is there any reason to believe that democracy requires a citizen who is only informed about the government of the day and not about the political parties that form the government or those who might be aspiring to replace the government?

 

But governments spend public money, or so the political parties argue, while political parties receive only minimal support from the government. But whose money do political parties spend? They admit that almost all their money comes from the public, some in traceable large donations, but most in untraceable small donations.

 

Therefore, if most of those who have funded (and supported, and voted for) a political party are anonymous, the only way a party can be accountable to them is by opening itself up for scrutiny by the anonymous Indian.

 

The RTI Act only asks parties to make public existing records, and you are required to keep only those records that some law, regulation or rule makes mandatory. So, if you do not maintain records on why a particular ticket was given, and there is no legal requirement for you to do so, so be it.

 

The RTI Act cannot demand that you provide information that you do not have in record form, or that you keep records that you are not otherwise obliged to. Besides, parties also have protection under Section 8(1) of the RTI Act that, among other things, exempts information that would harm a party's competitive position.

 

Perhaps the most incredible objection came in the early days of the debate when some political leaders objected that they were already "under" the Central Election Commission and did not want to also come under the CIC. But the Indian Penal Code also applies to them. Does that put political parties "under" the local thanedar? The CIC is one of many regulatory agencies that these very parties have created through the parliamentary process. These agencies work for the people of India on the instructions of Parliament. Is it, then, a shame to come under their purview?

 

And who will bear the burden of the cost of servicing the RTI Act? Given that political parties can easily put out proactively the few records that they are obliged to maintain, hopefully not much will remain to be asked of them through specific RTI applications. However, if political parties are unexpectedly confronted with a deluge of RTI applications, there would be a good case for financial support from the government to help meet their transparency obligations. This could be in addition to the land and other concessions that they already get, and it would probably be the best spent rupee of all the public money being given to them.

 

When most people vote for parties rather than individual candidates, and when political parties use the whip and other statutory measures to ensure that all their elected members follow the party line, an understanding of the values and functioning of a political party is fundamental to the functioning of an enlightened, or even a functional, democracy.

 

The people might want to know whether the party has a criteria for selecting candidates, and if not, why not. They might want to know why the party chose to take a particular stand in Parliament or why it did or did not raise a particular issue. Of course, a party might legitimately refuse to answer any of these questions on the justifiable plea that it does not maintain records or have norms on these matters, because it is not required to.

 

But its legally acceptable refusal will have its own message for the voters, and the fact that such questions interest the voter will, over time, persuade political parties to start maintaining records — for example, on their performance relating to their manifestos, or setting up guidelines for the selection of candidates. Surely this cannot be thought of as a bad outcome!

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Reported by thehindu.com on 12 July 2013

RTI activists seek Pranab

 

RTI activists seek Pranab’s help against move to dilute Act

 

Members of the United Forum for RTI Campaign (UF-RTI) have written to President Pranab Mukherjee urging him not to give his assent to proposals mooted by the Central government that would ‘dilute’ the Right To Information Act by promulgating an ordinance without a public debate on the issue.

 

At a press conference here on Thursday, UF-RTI’s convener Bhupathiraju Ramakrishnam Raju and others said the Central government was seriously contemplating a move to dilute the Act and changing definition of ‘Public Authority’. The RTI activists, including Saraswati Kavula in their letter to Mr. Pranab Mukherjee reminded him that there was no proper justification in passing an ordinance on this issue.

 

They cited Article 123 that stated ‘If at any time, except when both Houses of Parliament are in session, the President is satisfied that circumstances exist which render it necessary for him to take immediate action, he may promulgate such an ordinance as the circumstances appear to him to require.’

 

“The procedure being followed by the government is also not right and they should ideally approach the apex court and not bring in ordinance. This is meaningless and abuse of power,” said Mr. Raju. Ms. Saraswati said they planned to step up pressure on the government by organising public debates and talks and gather support from public on this issue.

 

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Reported by newstrackindia.com on 12 July 2013

Amendment to RTI Act, 2005 will be contempt of assurance given in Parliament: Lokesh Batra

 

Amendment to RTI Act, 2005 will be contempt of assurance given in Parliament: Lokesh Batra

 

New Delhi, July 12 (ANI): RTI activist Commodore Lokesh Batra has written a letter to President Pranab Mukherjee in which he has said that amendment to RTI Act, 2005 will be contempt of assurance given in Parliament.

 

"On 05 July 2009, the then Minister of State in the Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions had assured the Parliament in a written response to a question that the 'Non-Governmental Organisations and Social activists' will be consulted before any amendment to the RTI Act, 2005," he said in his letter to President Mukherjee.

 

Commodore Batra told President Mukherjee there are media reports that the Government is contemplating to counter the decision of the CIC declaring six political parties as Public authorities which are subject to the Right to Information Act by amending the RTI Act, 2005.

 

"The representatives of all political parties have stated that they believe the CIC decision is unsound legally and hence they are opposing it. If they are being truthful, they can certainly go in a writ to the Courts. In the past CIC decisions have been quashed by the Courts," said Commodore Batra.

 

"In the instant case I cannot see any reason which justifies any amendment to the RTI Act, 2005 by the Government and that too without consulting all the stakeholders/ Citizenry at large that include 'Non-Governmental Organisations and Social activists'," he added.

 

Commodore Batra in his letter requested President Mukherjee to communicate to the Government not to undertake any amendment to the RTI Act, 2005 without consulting all the stakeholders i.e. Citizenry at large that include 'Non-Governmental Organisations and Social activists', as assured in the Parliament lest it becomes contempt of assurance given in the Parliament. (ANI)

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Reported by Aditi Gyanesh in timesofindia.indiatimes.com on 13 July 2013

​‘Amending RTI will weaken common man’ - The Times of India

 

‘Amending RTI will weaken common man’

 

LUDHIANA: Most of the city residents are vehemently opposed to the idea of any amendment in the RTI Act. Where residents are concerned, the Act is an effective, non violent and non political way of exposing wrong doers and checking corruption.

 

City residents have decided to write to the President, asking him to prevent amendments in the RTI Act, which, they say, strengthens the common man.

 

They reason that if political parties are excluded from the RTI Act, they will get free hand to exploit people and earn money. While many have already sent letters, others are yet to do so.

 

One of the letters sent to the President says, "I am extremely concerned to note that in response to the recent Central Information Commission order, which declared six political parties to be public authorities under the RTI Act, the government is considering promulgating an ordinance to amend the RTI law. I oppose any move to amend the RTI Act, which has empowered citizens to meaningfully participate in the functioning of our democracy. In any case, under Article 123 of the Constitution, an ordinance should only be promulgated when there is great urgency." The Article 123 (1) states, "If at any time, except when both Houses of Parliament are in session, the President is satisfied that circumstances exist which render it necessary for him to take immediate action; he may promulgate such Ordinances as the circumstances appear to him to require". In this instance, there is no justification to promulgate an Ordinance to curtail a citizen's fundamental right."

 

Sarabha Nagar resident Harmeet Singh is also strongly opposed to the RTI Act saying corrupt leaders in political parties will use an amendment to manipulate the law. Samarjeet Singhal of Chandigarh Road agrees. "Many scams related to political parties have been exposed in the last eight years. This spoiled the career of many politicians. We have had the Coalgate scam, Choppergate scam and more," said Samarjeet.

 

Under Section 2 of the RTI Act, the definition of public authority in the proposed amendment will make it clear that "it shall not include any political party registered under the Representation of the Peoples Act".

 

At present, the law ministry has cleared the ordinance and the cabinet note regarding the proposed amendments declares that making parties accountable to the public will hamper their smooth internal functioning as a large number of applications would be filed with malicious intent by political rivals.

 

The cabinet note also defends the proposed step saying that the Representation of the People Act and the Income Tax Act already exist to bring about transparency in political parties and their finances.

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Reported by timesofindia.indiatimes.com on July 12 2013

 

Ballot votes to bring political parties under RTI ambit - The Times of India

 

TNN | Jul 12, 2013, 07.31 AM IST

 

Ballot votes to bring political parties under RTI ambit

 

 

RAJKOT: Right to Information Act (RTI) activists from across the state have launched a campaign against government's move to bring in ordinance to keep political parties out of RTI Act ambit.

 

"Citizen's groups across the state are protesting against government's intension to dilute RTI Act to exclude political parties. We are circulating ballot papers to citizens' groups who are actively engaged in RTI awareness. The ballot boxes and signatures will be sent to speaker of Lok Sabha with a note that "as our representatives are amending RTI without taking our consent... we are compelled to send our votes directly,'' said RTI activist Pankti Jog of Mahiti Adhikar Gujarat Pahel (MAGP), which runs RTI helpline based in Ahmedabad.

 

The Central Information Commission (CIC) had on June 3 given six national political parties six weeks to make these appointments and the deadline expires on July 15. In the meantime, the government has readied an ordinance to exclude parties from the ambit of the law. RTI activists have termed the move as going against the fundamental rights of citizens.

 

The ballot papers, which are being circulated by RTI activists' reads: "I am an Indian citizen and I am opposed to any amendment to the Right to Information ordinance 2005. The representatives we elect through democratic process want to bypass us in taking the political parties out of the jurisdiction of the RTI." "More than 8,000 people have voted against it and not a single vote for amendment or in favour of political parties. We are planning to collect over 50,000 votes,'' Jog added.

 

The activists have also started an email campaign where citizens are sending emails to the President.

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Reported by (PTI) business-standared.com on 14 July 2013

No decision yet on keeping political parties out of RTI | Business Standard

 

No decision yet on keeping political parties out of RTI

 

No decision has been taken yet by the government on giving immunity to political parties from providing information under the Right to Information Act as the six-week deadline by the Central Information Commission ends tomorrow.

 

Officials in the Department of Personnel and Training, which is the nodal department for the implementation of the RTI Act, said the government was not very keen on bringing an ordinance to keep political parties out of the ambit of the transparency law.

 

The DoPT, which is under the charge of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, may also go for consultation with other stake holders including civil society before deciding to bring an ordinance, which has been approved by the Law Ministry, to pave way for amendments in the RTI Act, they said.

 

The amendments in the RTI Act, if approved by all stake holders, can be brought as early as during the Monsoon Session of Parliament which is likely to begin from mid-August.

 

The Central Information Commission had in its order on June 3 held that six national parties -- Congress, BJP, NCP, CPI-M, CPI and BSP -- have been substantially funded indirectly by the central government and they have the character of public authority under the RTI Act as they perform public functions.

 

The transparency watchdog's six-week deadline to these political parties to appoint designate information officers and appellate authorities ends tomorrow.

 

The DoPT may propose amendments to Section 2 of the RTI Act to change definition of a public authority to shield political parties.

 

Another option which may be considered by the government is to include political parties in the list of exempted organisations (as mentioned in Section 8 of the Act), which include central security and intelligence agencies like RAW, IB and CBI, among others.

 

The DoPT is, however, less inclined to opt for the second option as it might face public opposition, the officials said.

 

The Centre's flagship Right to Information Act empowers a citizen to seek time-bound information on all matters of governance by paying a fee of Rs 10.

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Any move by the Political parties to come out of the ambit of RTI Act by any means is a shame to the Party in power who claims to be the champions of the RTI Act and propagating untiringly that their Party has brought the revolutionary ACT, and now when it comes to their door step, they are going back-foot. The definition in 2(h) is perfectly applicable to all the Parties. If they being in power will go back in one way or the other, what about the Private unaided Schools, Colleges, Hospitals, other NGOS. who are simply registered and recognized and not getting any concessions. Will they also not try to get themselves out by citing this example. All should resist this move through all means.

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Reported by Himanshi Dhawan in timesofindia.indiatimes.com on 14 July 2013

RTI deadline for parties ends today - The Times of India

 

RTI deadline for parties ends today

 

NEW DELHI: Political parties are unlikely to be rapped by the Central Information Commission (CIC) for missing its Monday deadline for appointing public information officers. Though the CIC has recognized parties as public authorities under the RTI Act, it does not have powers to take suo motu action in case of non-compliance, allowing the government at least 45 days to bring in amendments to the RTI Act and make the order redundant.

 

The CIC had on June 3 given six national political parties six weeks to appoint information officers and appellate authorities and make voluntary disclosures on their working. These parties are: Congress, BJP, BSP, NCP, CPI and CPM. However, not only have the parties not made any headway on this, they have shown rare solidarity on staying out of the RTI Act.

 

Chief information commissioner Satyananda Mishra said no action could be taken against the parties unless the commission received a complaint. "We cannot take suo motu cognizance. If, however, it is brought to the notice of the commission through a complaint of non-compliance of our directions, then we can start the process," he said.

 

According to the RTI Act, a public authority has 30 days to respond to the request. This means if an RTI request is placed before any of the six parties on Monday, the applicant can seek CIC's intervention in the matter only after a month. The commission will then issue a notice allowing at least 15 days for the parties to respond. This would give the government about 45 days till August-end to bring amendments to the Act either through Parliament or through an ordinance.

 

Though there have been lengthy discussions on the ordinance, government sources appear inclined to bring in a legislation in the monsoon session keeping in mind the unanimous support that the move enjoys. All six political parties have been vociferous in their opposition to the CIC order. Meanwhile, RTI activists and civil society members have criticized the "two-faced'' stand and shot off letters to the President, urging him not to sign any ordinance amending the Act.

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Reported by zeenews.india.com on 15 July 2013

CIC order to bring political parties under RTI misconceived: Tewari

 

CIC order to bring political parties under RTI misconceived: Tewari

 

New Delhi: Political parties were not intended to be brought under the RTI Act and the order by the Central Information Commission to appoint public information officers is misconceived, I&B minister Manish Tewari said on Monday.

 

His comments come on a day when the deadline set by the CIC for appointing public information officers by the parties ends.

 

"If you read the RTI Act, if you go back to the debate which led to its conceptualisation, if the intent was to bring political parties under it, that would have been stated," Tewari told reporters here.

 

"And the law doesn't allow you to do something indirectly which cannot be done directly and that's why we have said very respectfully that the CIC's order is misconceived and fails on the fundamental appreciation of the law," he said.

 

The CIC had in its June 3 order said six national parties -- Congress, BJP, NCP, CPI-M, CPI and BSP -- have been substantially funded indirectly by the central government and they have the character of public authority under the RTI Act as they perform public functions.

 

The Law Ministry had cleared the ordinance route to amend the RTI Act to overturn the CIC order bringing the parties under the ambit of the transparency law.

 

In a question related to reported incursions into Indian territory by Chinese forces, Tewari said there was a danger in trying to sensationalise and "raise temperatures" where none were required and nothing called for.

 

He said if at all there has been an intrusion, Defence and External Affairs ministries would appropriately deal with it.

 

In a question related to violence during Bengal polls, Tewari said such incidents had no place in democracy

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Reported by timesofindia.indiatimes.com

 

Six parties refuse to implement Central Information Commission order - The Times of India

 

TNN | Jul 16, 2013, 02.04 AM IST

 

Six parties refuse to implement Central Information Commission order

 

NEW DELHI: Six national political parties refused to comply with Central Information Commission's directions to appoint public information officers, flouting the six-week deadline that expired on Monday. The parties are now open to scrutiny under the Right to Information (RTI) Act. However, the parties have at least a 45-day period before they can be hauled up for a response.

 

Only one national party, CPI, responded to an RTI query filed by activist S C Agrawal with the rider that it opposed the CIC order. The CPI gave financial details of the last five years and also responded to queries put forward by Agrawal.

 

Speculation that an ordinance may be brought to circumvent the CIC order was dismissed by officials who indicated that an amendment to the law could be brought forward in the coming monsoon session of Parliament.

 

The CIC had in its order held that six national parties -- Congress, BJP, NCP, CPM, CPI and BSP -- have been substantially funded indirectly by the central government and were required to appoint information officers as they had the character of a public authority under the RTI Act.

 

Congress, which is credited with bringing in the flagship RTI Act in 2005, said the CIC order to appoint public information officers was misconceived. "If you read the RTI Act, if you go back to the debate which led to its conceptualization, if the intent was to bring political parties under it, that would have been stated... And the law doesn't allow you to do something indirectly which cannot be done directly and that's why we have said very respectfully that the CIC's order is misconceived and fails on the fundamental appreciation of the law," I&B minister Manish Tewari said.

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Reported by Vineeta Deshmukh in moneylife.in on 17 July 2013

Pune RTI activists start filing complaints against political parties for defying CIC order to appoint PIOs - Moneylife

 

Pune RTI activists start filing complaints against political parties for defying CIC order to appoint PIOs

 

The deadline of 16th July is over and political parties are trying devious means to be out of the RTI ambit. Pune activists though have triggered off action by sending a complaint to the CCIC for non-compliance of its order

 

With the political parties defying the Central Information Commission’s orders to appoint Public Information Officers (PIOs), Appellate Authorities (AAs) and implement voluntary disclosure of information under Section 4 of the RTI Act, by 15th July, RTI activists from Pune have lodged a complaint with the Chief Central Information Commissioner (CCIC) for non-compliance of the Commission’s order.

 

The complaint signed by several RTI activists like Major General SCN Jatar (retd), Vijay Kumbhar,Vivek Velankar, Jugal Rathi and others including this writer, has requested CCIC Satyananda Mishra to “take necessary action and order them (political parties) to appoint PIOs, Appellate Authorities & disclose details of their working.”

 

The letter which has been sent on 16th July states: “This is to complain regarding non-compliance of your order dt 3 June 2013 that political parties—Congress, BJP, BSP, NCP, CPI and CPM—should appoint PIOs, Appellate Authorities and disclose all the details of their working in six weeks i.e. 15 July 2013. We have visited and thoroughly browsed the respective websites of all the political parties mentioned in your said order. We did not find any action taken in compliance of your order.”

 

Earlier, the CIC had made it clear that it does not have any authority to suo motu direct the political parties to abide by the order. However, in case of complaints by the citizens of non-implementation of the same, the CIC can begin the process once again.

 

The signatories include Vivek Velankar, Jugal Rathi and V Sahasrabuddhe of Sajag Nagrik Manch,Pune; Maj Gen(Retd) Sudhir Jatar of Nagrik Chetna Manch; Vijay Kumbhar of Surajya Sangharsh Samiti; Dr Shriram Pande, RTI Forum,Pimpri Chinchwad, Vinita Deshmukh of

RTI Forum for Instant Information and Vihar Durve.

 

Delhi-based RTI activist Commodore Lokesh Batra (retd) has brought to the notice of the government, of its own press release issued on 8 July 2008 which states the government will not make any amendments to RTI without consultations with civil society. The press release reads thus: “The government proposes to strengthen right to information by suitably amending the laws to provide for disclosure by government in all non-strategic areas. In this regard, it is proposed to review the number of organizations in the second schedule to the Right to Information Act, 2005, and make rules for more disclosure of information by public authorities.

 

"Government has received representations expressing doubts about the proposed amendments. Non-governmental organisations and social activists will be consulted on the proposed amendments. However, no time frame can be fixed for completion of the process. This information was given by minister of state in the ministry of personnel, public grievances & pensions, Prithviraj Chavan in a written reply to a question in Lok Sabha."

 

Batra has shot off a letter to president Pranab Mukherjee stating that political parties should seek legal intervention if they do not want to be under RTI Act and not circumvent illegally as it amounts to contempt of assurance given in the Parliament. He states, “Sir, there are media reports that the government is contemplating to counter the decision of the CIC declaring six political parties as public authorities which are subject to the Right to Information Act by amending the RTI Act, 2005. The representatives of all political parties have stated that they believe the CIC decision is unsound legally and hence they are opposing it. If they are being truthful, they can certainly go in a writ to the courts. In the past CIC decisions have been quashed by the courts. In the instant case I cannot see any reason which justifies any amendment to the RTI Act, 2005, by the government and that too without consulting all the stakeholders/citizens at large that include non-governmental organisations and social activists.”

 

Delhi-based RTI activist Subhash Agrawal states that, “if the Union government and political parties are so sure about a full-bench verdict from the Central Information Commission (CIC) for bringing political parties under the RTI Act to be contrary to the law, they should challenge the CIC verdict in the courts rather than adopting short cut route of ordinance or legislation instead of breaking the solemn assurance given by Union government to people of this nation in the Parliament. President of India in his dual capacity as Head of the nation and the Parliament should honour assurance given in this regard by his government in the Parliament in this regard.”

 

Agrawal along with Anil Bahirwal had filed a RTI application to all six major political parties seeking information on funding they received from various sources. Communist Party of India (CPI) was the only party which provided a detailed reply. States Agrawal, “CPI should be complimented for being the first and the only political party for disclosing funding made to it by various sources even though it did not approve of CIC-verdict bringing political parties under ambit of RTI Act.”

 

Agrawal says it is important that political parties should be under RTI as besides funding, “important aspects of poll-reforms can also be queried from political parties through properly drafted RTI petitions which can practically provide nation and its public purity in poll and political system.”

 

However, with political parties united, when it comes to defending their alleged financial misappropriations, it is unlikely that transparency in this area will come so fast. For, earlier the government had planned to bring in an ordinance to keep political parties out of RTI ambit, before 15th July (the time within which political parties had to appoint PIOs and AAs). However, due to the furore of the civil society, now it has decided to bring the amendment in the form of a bill in the Monsoon session of the Parliament. Guess, even the UPA’s die-hard enemy in the Parliament will not oppose it. Such is the tragedy of our democracy.

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Reported by moneylife.in on 19 July 2013

Are activists barking at the wrong tree on political parties being under RTI? - Moneylife

 

Are activists barking at the wrong tree on political parties being under RTI?

While some activists have started filing complaints before the CIC about political parties flouting its directions, few other activists feel that the Commission's jurisdiction over a 'complaint' is discretionary but its 'appellate jurisdiction' is statutory. Therefore, activists should first file an RTI and then complaint to the CIC

 

With the political parties defying the Central Information Commission (CIC)’s orders to appoint Public Information Officers (PIOs), Appellate Authorities (AAs) and implement voluntary disclosure of information under Section 4 of the RTI Act, by 15th July, several activists are lodging complaints before the Commission. However, contrary to this view, some RTI activists believe that since the CIC has exhausted its powers under sub-section 19(8)(ii) of the RTI Act, it would be better if activists first file an RTI and after not receiving information from political parties should file appeal before the Commission.

 

RTI activist Sarbajit Roy, who is also national convenor of India Against Corruption said, "...whereas the CIC's 'complaint jurisdiction' is discretionary in its application, its 'appellate jurisdiction' is statutory and compulsory in its application as upheld by the Supreme Court and various High Courts."

 

On 3 June 2013, a three-member bench of CIC in two complaints under the RTI directed as:

 

92 ... "The order of the Single Bench of this Commission in Complaint No. CIC/MISC/2009/0001 and CIC/MISC/2009/0002 is hereby set aside and it is held that All India Congress Committee (AICC)/Indian National Congress (INC), Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Communist Party of India (Marxist)-CPI(M), Communist Party of India (CPI), Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) are public authorities under section 2(h) of the RTI Act.

 

93. The Presidents, General/Secretaries of these Political Parties are hereby directed to designate CPIOs and the Appellate Authorities at their headquarters in 6 weeks’ time. The CPIOs so appointed will respond to the RTI applications extracted in this order in 04 weeks’ time. Besides, the Presidents/General Secretaries of the above mentioned Political Parties are also directed to comply with the provisions of section 4(1) (b) of the RTI Act by way of making voluntary disclosures on the subjects mentioned in the said clause."

 

The time of six weeks given in this order elapsed on 16 July 2013, from the dare these six political parties were expected to comply with the directions (of CIC) to appoint their CPIOs to receive and deal with RTI requests from the citizens.

 

Upon the date of 16 July 2013 having come and gone without the parties having designated their CPIOs, a section of RTI activists have gone about submitting complaints to the CIC that the parties have flouted the CIC's directions.

 

According to some RTI activists, such general complaints, without actual RTI applications being submitted, are not maintainable under the provisions of the RTI Act for the following reason…

 

A) The CIC has already declared the parties to be "public authority" and directed them to designate their CPIOs and Appellate Authorities within a specific time. The CIC has therefore exhausted its powers under sub-section 19(8)(ii) of the RTI Act. There is nothing further the CIC can do in its complaint jurisdiction, if a political party refuses to comply with its directions to appoint a CPIO.

 

Therefore, Roy said, the optimum strategy for RTI activists now would be to proceed as though the political parties have complied with the CIC's directions and start lodging / sending their RTI requests to the Headquarters of the concerned political parties addressed to the "Central Public Information Officer / RTI Act". The same should be done immediately, as it is very likely that some party will obtain a stay order soon against the CIC's directions, or perhaps the RTI Act itself will be amended temporarily through the ordinance route.

 

The persons who have lodged their RTIs prior to the stay / ordinance are liable to treated as a separate class and will have liberty to approach CIC for relief / information despite a subsequent stay order.

 

According to Roy, the CIC's decision is poorly drafted and is unlikely to stand up to judicial scrutiny in the long run. "In particular, the CIC has not dealt with the contentions urged by the NCP and CPI, to the effect that political parties are bodies of private persons statutorily reporting to the Election Commission, and that all their information which is available to the Election Commission under any law can be accessed by citizens from the Election Commission or other state authorities under section 2(f) of the RTI Act. Any other interpretation would create an absurd situation whereby citizens can get information under RTI from public authorities beyond what is available to supervisory Constitutional authorities or even Parliament under statutes. That it is such poor quality decisions emanating from the CIC which caused the Supreme Court last year to impugn the Information Commissioners for their lack of judicial mind," he said.

 

Roy said on 17 July 2013, he sent an RTI request to the Congress Party (accessible here : https://lists.riseup.net/www/arc/indiaresists/2013-07/msg00051.html ) asking for the following information related to the Party's Vice President Rahul Gandhi's widely reported statement of 14 April 2012 "I am a Brahmin...and General Secretary in the Congress Party".

 

(i) If it is true that Shri Rahul Gandhi was General Secretary of the party on 14 April 2012.

 

ii) If it is true that Shri Rahul Gandhi was a Brahmin on 14 April 2012.

 

iii) Provide me copies of all the supporting documents on basis of which these claims / statements were made by Shri Rahul Gandhi. In the alternative, the rejoinder, if any, to the newspapers concerned about their reportage and its veracity.

 

iv) Provide me the extract(s) from audited Account Books of INC party to show that Shri Rahul Gandhi (senior office bearer of INC Party) has been timely in depositing 1% of his annual income as required under the published Rules/Regulations of the Indian National Congress Party.

 

Roy said when the Congress Party evades replying to him, he intends to move to the CIC under its Appellate jurisdiction to get penalties levied for 'repeated and wilful refusals to accept and deal with RTI requests' if the said information is not supplied.

 

 

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Reported by hindustantimes.com on 20 July 2013

Socialist party against amendment in RTI - Hindustan Times

 

Socialist party against amendment in RTI

The Socialist Party (India) has criticised the UPA government's decision to bring an amendment to the Right to Information (RTI) Act in the form of a bill in the Parliament to exempt political parties from the definition of public authority. Party's national vice-president Balwant Singh Khera called the move against the spirit of the transparency law.

 

The government has recently moved a cabinet note to amend the RTI Act to keep political parties out of its ambit. In June, the chief information commissioner had ruled that political parties came under the ambit of the RTI act and had directed the president and general secretaries of the parties to comply within six weeks of the order.

 

It had held that political parties were public authorities and would have to share information about their organisations and funding, if sought. Parties had argued that they were not public authorities and so should not be brought under the RTI Act. The government had first decided to bring an Ordinance to keep six political parties from the purview of the Right RTI Act, but has now proposed an amendment in the Act.

 

Khera had written to President Pranab Mukhrerjee also to withhold the Ordinance. He said that political parties were heavily funded by the centre and state governments and enjoyed many other incentives including rebate on their annual income, hence they were not justified in seeking exemption under the RTI Act.

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As reported by timesofindia.indiatimes.com

 

Bill seeks to overturn CIC order bringing 6 parties under RTI Act - The Times of India

 

Bill seeks to overturn CIC order bringing 6 parties under RTI Act

 

TNN | Jul 20, 2013, 05.52 AM IST

 

NEW DELHI: After getting major parties on board following back channel consultations, the government is all set to bring a Bill in the forthcoming monsoon session of Parliament for amending the Right to Information (RTI) Act to overturn a Central Information Commission (CIC) order bringing six major political parties under the ambit of the transparency law.

 

Though the law ministry had earlier cleared the ordinance route to amend the Act, the government has now decided to bring a Bill as dates of the monsoon session have already been announced and couple of political parties, including BJP and Samajwadi Party, has expressed uneasiness over supporting the ordinance route.

 

The proposed amendments state that declaring political parties as public authorities under the RTI Act would "hamper their smooth internal functioning since it will encourage political rivals to file RTI applications with malicious intentions".

 

Sources said that the definition of public authority (under Section 2 of the RTI Act) in the proposed amendment will make it clear that "it shall not include any political party registered under the Representation of the People Act".

 

The government will put forward an argument that the Representation of the People Act and the Income Tax Act provide sufficient transparency regarding financial aspects of political parties and hence it is not needed to bring the parties under the RTI Act.

 

As proposed earlier, political parties may not be added in the list of organizations (Section 8) exempted from parting information under the information act.

 

The CIC had in its June 3 order said six national parties — Congress, BJP, NCP, CPM, CPI and BSP — have been substantially funded indirectly by the Central government and they have the character of public authority under the RTI Act as they perform public functions.

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Reported by Madhavi Rajadhakshya in timesofindia.indiatimes.com on 24 July 2013

Open letter by prominent citizens urges MPs not to amend RTI act - The Times of India

 

Open letter by prominent citizens urges MPs not to amend RTI act

MUMBAI: Prominent citizens from India have come together and addressed an open letter to the Members of Parliament urging them not to scuttle the Right to Information Act through an amendment. Reports of the RTI Act coming under scrutiny have been doing the rounds ever since the Chief Information Commissioner declared political parties as public authorities and directed that they should be subjected to transparency laws.

 

"If an order which is bad in law is issued by any statutory authority, the correct process is to challenge it at an appropriate forum. The CIC order can be challenged in a writ in the High Court, and there are many instances of these orders having been quashed in Courts," stated a letter forwarded by transparency activist Shailesh Gandhi and endorsed by several prominent citizens including Retd. Chief Justice of Delhi High Court AP Shah, former police commissioner of Mumbai,.Julio Ribeiro, architect Charles Corea, and former Cabinet Secretary TSR Subramanian among others.

 

The letter urged MPs not to vote for this amendment, if it was introduced. It also stated that parties which were not going to vote for the amendment should state so publicly.

 

For the record, no political party has moved the courts regarding the CIC order. The citizens pointed out that an amendment would set a bad precedent.

 

The RTI act has been considered a widely used tool by citizens tobring transparency to the Indian democracy. Given the climate of distrust between citizens and their political leaders, transparency by political parties might help restore the faith in public bodies.

 

 

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Reported by Samanwaya Rautray in econmictimes.indiatimes.com on 28 July 2013

RTI effect: Political parties are chary of making their account books public - The Economic Times

 

RTI effect: Political parties are chary of making their account books public

 

Lack of unanimity among political parties may have held up many a crucial bill such as the women's reservation bill in Parliament, but there will be no so such stumbling block if the government were to decide to tweak the law tomorrow to exempt parties from the pale of the Right to Information (RTI) Act.

 

There's political unanimity on keeping parties, especially their account books, away from public scrutiny, a senior Cabinet minister recently said on the condition of anonymity. "The CIC [Central Information Commission] order is impractical," he said. "If one party gets to know who the other party's biggest donors are, it may go on a witch-hunt against them."

 

The CIC had on June 3, 2012, declared six parties as public authorities and asked them to share information with the public on memberships, internal elections, office-bearers, criteria to induct members, donations etc, virtually setting the cat among the pigeons. The BJP and the BSP refused to respond to RTI requests whereas the Congress and the CPI(M) claimed they were not public authorities. The CIC overruled them and asked the Congress, BJP, BSP, NCP, CPI and CPI(M) to share information with the public.

 

The government could very well have appealed against this to the high court, but is chary of giving the Anna Hazares and Arvind Kejriwals fresh ammunition to put it in the dock of the people's court again. Instead, it is working quietly to have the order circumvented by a law. As the first step, it has called for an all-party meeting on August 1. So when Parliament convenes for the monsoon session on August 5, one of the first things it may do is to prevent nosy RTI applicants from accessing any information on parties.

 

All it has to do is to introduce a small amendment — clarifying that the term "public authority" shall not include political parties.

 

WHY THE SECRECY

 

Explaining the rare show of unanimity, lawyer Prashant Bhushan says: "There are serious conflict of interest issues here. If the information comes out, people will know which companies are making donations and benefiting in return."

RTI effect: Political parties are chary of making their account books public

 

CPI(M)'s Brinda Karat claims that her party's opposition is not so much to making its funding public, but to exposing its internal mechanisms and processes. "We use people's money and we are accountable for it. But there's no question of anybody trying to get the internal discussions and processes of the party," she says.

 

Jagdeep Chhokar, founder member National Election Watch, Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), however, dismisses the political opposition as a "red herring". In any case, parties can easily withhold any sensitive information under Section 7 of the RTI, he points out. "They are resisting lifting of the corporate veil to show who actually makes these donations," he says. "What we are worried about is a few corporate houses controlling political parties in India," he adds.

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Reported by post.jagran.com on 28 July 2013

NCPRI urges PM not to amend RTI Act in upcoming Parliament session

 

NCPRI urges PM not to amend RTI Act in upcoming Parliament session

 

New Delhi: Activists have launched an online petition addressed to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh against the amendment likely to be made to the Right to Information (RTI) Act in the upcoming Parliament session.

 

"We are informed that the government is thinking of amending the RTI Act to negate the Central Information Commission order that the political parties are public authorities under the act," coordinator of the National Campaign for People's Right to Information (NCPRI) said.

 

"It is likely that these amendments would seek to curtail various other entitlements that have now established the ability of the RTI to fight corruption and the arbitrary use of power by the establishment. Therefore, this petition has been initiated," the coordinator added.

 

Since the implementation of the RTI Act in 2005, activists have resisted several attempts by the establishment to curtail transparency and accountability, he said. "When amendments were proposed to the RTI Act in 2009, the government had assured Parliament that non-governmental organizations (NGO) and social activists will be consulted on the amendments. We, therefore, expect the government to hold wide ranging public discussions before they even think of amending the law," said Sailesh Gandhi, an RTI activist.

 

The petition, which has 250 signatures so far, has been initiated by NCPRI on the website change.

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Reported by (PTI) in economictimes.indiatimes.com on 30 July 2013

Govt seeks cabinet nod to keep political parties out of RTI - The Economic Times

 

Govt seeks cabinet nod to keep political parties out of RTI

 

NEW DELHI: Government has decided to keep political parties out of the ambit of Right to Information (RTI) Act and may seek approval of an amendment at a meeting of Union Cabinet on Thursday.

 

A draft note on the issue has been prepared by the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT)--nodal department for implementation of the transparency law--seeking to amend RTI Act 2005 and it will be put up before the Cabinet for its nod, official sources said.

 

The move comes after the Central Information Commission (CIC) last month held that six national parties --Congress, BJP, NCP, CPI-M, CPI and BSP--have been substantially funded indirectly by the central government and were required to appoint Public Information Officers (PIOs) as they have the character of a public authority under the RTI Act.

 

The CIC had given a six-week deadline to all these political parties to appoint PIOs and Appellate Authorities (AAs) for the purpose.

 

The decision from transparency watchdog evoked sharp reactions from political parties, especially Congress. The party which has been credited with bringing in the transparency law opposed the directive.

 

Of the six political parties, only CPI has followed the CIC's order in time and even responded to an RTI query.

 

The Government seeks to change the definition of public authorities mentioned under Section 2 of the RTI Act to keep all recognised political parties out of the jurisdiction of RTI, the sources said.

 

After Cabinet's nod, the government will have to introduce a Bill in this regard in the Monsoon Session of Parliament beginning August 5, they said.

 

The Centre's flagship Right to Information Act empowers a citizen to seek time-bound information on all matters of governance by paying a fee of Rs 10.

 

The Ministry of Personnel will also seek Cabinet approval on August 1 in for official amendments in Whistle-blowers Protection Bill, which seeks to keep information that could compromise strategic and economic interests and impact foreign relations out of the ambit of the Bill aimed at protection of whistle-blowers from harassment.

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As reported by Rajeev Shukla in indianewsco.com on 30 July 2013:

Poll compulsions make Congress Party agree for RTI | India News Co.

 

Poll compulsions make Congress Party agree for RTI

 

In a bold development triggered by electoral compulsions to clean up its battered image as the party of scamsters, the Indian National Congress Party has agreed to abide by a Central Information Commission decision and accept the RTI applications from the public.

 

The office of Moti Lal Vora (Treasurer AICC), had informed this reporter that Demand Drafts for RTI requests and other fees could be made out in name of "Chief Accountant-cum-Administrative Officer, All India Congress Committee" payable at New Delhi and sent to "Shri S.M. Moin, Chief Accountant, All India Congress Committee, 24 Akbar Road, New Delhi" along with details of the information sought.

 

It was further clarified to this reporter that Smt Sonia Gandhi President AICC, and originator of India's landmark RTI Act - a key component of Congress Party's "war on corruption", has specifically instructed for maximum dislcosure by Congress Party to RTI applicants, but mode and sources of finance and also selection of party candidates, would not be disclosed as these are the commercial confidences and trade secrets of the party, and are already exempted from disclosure under the RTI Act. The Congress President has directed that if required the RTI Act would be amended to ensure better protection for intellectual property and trade secrets of corporate bodies like the Congress party.

 

It may be recalled that on 3 June 2013, activist Subhash Chandra Agrawal of New Delhi along with Advocate Prashant Bhushan of Aam Aadmi Party has brought 6 national political parties in RTI scope and sought the details of their funding and mode of selection of candidates.

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Reported by newstrackindia.com on August 01, 2013

Activist Lokesh Batra requests Sushma Swaraj to oppose RTI Act amendment

 

Activist Lokesh Batra requests Sushma Swaraj to oppose RTI Act amendment

 

New Delhi, Aug. 1 (ANI): RTI activist Commodore (Retd.) Lokesh K. Batra has written a letter to Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha, Sushma Swaraj, in which he has said that amendment to RTI Act, 2005 will be contempt of assurance given in the Parliament.

 

"On 05 July 2009, the then Minister of State in the Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions had assured the Parliament in a written response to a question that the 'Non-Governmental Organisations and Social activists' will be consulted before any amendment to the RTI Act, 2005. The Hon'ble Minister reiterated his stand in Rajya Sabha on 25 August 2010," he said in his letter to Swaraj.

 

Commodore (Retd.) Batra told Swaraj there are media reports that the Government is contemplating to counter the decision of the CIC declaring six political parties as Public authorities which are subject to the Right to Information Act by amending the RTI Act, 2005.

 

"The representatives of all political parties have stated that they believe the CIC decision is unsound legally and hence they are opposing it. We recognise if they are being truthful, they can certainly go in a writ to the Courts. In the past CIC decisions have been quashed by the Courts," Commodore (Retd.) Batra said.

 

"In the instant case we cannot see any reason which justifies any amendment to the RTI Act, 2005 by the Government and that too without consulting all the stakeholders/ Citizenry at large that include 'Non-Governmental Organisations and Social activists'," he added.

 

Commodore (Retd.) Batra requested the Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha to oppose any amendment to the RTI Act, if proposed by the government, without consulting all the stakeholders i.e. Citizenry at large that include 'Non-Governmental Organisations and Social activists', as assured in the Parliament lest it becomes contempt of assurance given in the Parliament.

 

The RTI activist had last month written a letter to President Pranab Mukherjee in this regard. (ANI)

 

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Reported by newstracindia.com on August 01, 2013

NEWADR appeals to MPS not to support RTI amendment

 

NEWADR appeals to MPS not to support RTI amendment

 

New Delhi, Aug.1 (ANI): The National Election Watch and Association for Democratic Reforms (NEWADR) has appealed to all Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha MPs to not support the proposed amendment of the Right to Information Act 2005.

 

Letters to this effect have been signed by state co-ordinators of state election watch teams. This demand is supported by over 1200 organizations which are members of National Election Watch across India.

 

The letters say that by not supporting this bill, the lawmakers will be supporting the citizens of the country, and will become advocates of transparency and accountability.

 

NEWADR said the Right to Information Act has been hailed as landmark legislation since its enactment, and the government that passed this legislation has claimed, and is believed, to be an advocate of transparency.

 

"Bringing political parties under the purview of the RTI Act is merely a step forward in the same direction to ensure accountability by all political platforms to the citizens of India," it said.

 

It further said that the suspicion that this may be detrimental to the internal functioning and strategies of the political parties is completely misplaced.

 

"On the contrary, lack of information about the political parties leads to disconnect between the parties and the common man. Bringing political parties under RTI will help bridge that gap and the common man will be able to engage with the parties," the NEWADR said.

 

"The amendment to the RTI Act, if passed, will add substantially to the already widespread resentment across masses and widen the distrust between citizens and the leaders," it warned.

 

National Election Watch and Association for Democratic Reforms members will also be participating in the public action called in by the National Campaign for Peoples Right to Information on August 6. (ANI)

 

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Reported by dailybhaskar.com on August 01, 2013

Politicians come together to save their skin; Cabinet clears RTI amendment to keep parties out of purview - daily.bhaskar.com

 

Politicians come together to save their skin; Cabinet clears RTI amendment to keep parties out of purview

 

New Delhi: Political parties may be opposed to each other on almost every policy matter. However, when it comes to their own interests, they talk in one voice. Be it raising the salary of the MP’s, or standing up against Supreme Court’s direction to bar criminals from politics. They are even standing up against the Chief Information Commissioner’s directive that top national parties should declare their assets in response to RTI as they are a public authority.

 

On Thursday, Cabinet cleared amendments in the RTI act. These amendments were made after CIC directed 6 national parties to declare their assets in response to the application filed by an activist. First, the political parties in unison tried to prove that they are not public authorities. Then they worked up a strategy to do away with the prospects as they decided to make changes in the law itself.

 

This was not all. An all-party meeting on Thursday voiced concern over "erosion of supremacy" of Parliament with demands being made for a change in the mechanism of higher judiciary appointments and a response to the recent Supreme Court judgements on disqualification of legislators and barring those behind bars from contesting elections.

 

The meeting, convened by parliamentary affairs minister Kamal Nath on the eve of monsoon session beginning on Monday, saw leaders of all parties being also critical of the Supreme Court judgements on the issue of reservations.

 

After the 90-minute meeting, he told reporters that all parties expressed concern over the judgements and wanted the National Judicial Commission Bill to be introduced as well as passed in this session itself.

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