OPINION | Amendment in RTI Act: A move to make CIC vulnerable to Centre’s pressure?

The Narendra Modi led BJP government is considering a proposal to amend the Right to Information Act, 2005. In July, a notice of intention was given in the Rajya Sabha to introduce “The Right to Information (Amendment) Bill, 2018” for consideration and its passage.

However, as criticism over the proposed amendments to the RTI Act mounted, the government did not introduce the Bill in the Upper House.

The purport of the amendments proposed is to provide for enabling provision under the RTI Act to frame Rules regarding salaries, allowances and conditions of service for Chief Information Commissioners, Information Commissioners and State Information Commissioners.  Presently, there are no such provisions available under the RTI Act.

As per reports, consultations with the Department of Expenditure, Department of Legal Affairs and Legislative Department have been undertaken while preparing the RTI (Amendment) Bill, 2018.

The information was provided by the Union Minister of State (Independent Charge)  Jitendra Singh in a written reply to a question in Lok Sabha on 18th July.

The existing law states that the tenure of the information commissioners will be of five years, with an age cap of 65—the Centre now proposes that the term “may be prescribed by the central government”.

The move has triggered a political reaction and those protesting against the amendments have merits. Leaders of various political parties made it clear that they are committed to fight any attempt by the Modi government to “dilute” the act and oppose any amendments to it.

Congress president Rahul Gandhi attacked the BJP government over proposed changes to the Act and said ruling government will render the law “useless”.

“Every Indian deserves to know the truth and the BJP wants to hide the truth. The BJP believes the truth must be hidden from the people and they must not question people in power. The changes proposed to the RTI will make it a useless Act,” Gandhi said on Twitter. 

RTI activists have also raised concerns and said the proposed amendments seek to do away with the uniformity given to information commissions with the Election Commission of India (ECI) in terms of salary, allowances and conditions of service

A letter by the National Campaign for People’s Right to Information has challenged the amendments on grounds that they undermine the independence of information commissions.

Even the Central Information Commissioner M. Sridhar Acharyulu has warned against the move.

In a letter to Chief Information Commissioner R.K. Mathur and his five fellow Commissioners, Professor Acharyulu warned that if the amendments are made, “The Right to Information Act will be rendered absolutely useless in securing access to public records pertaining to public servants,” reported The Hindu.

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Is this the first attempt to dilute the RTI Act?

Is this the first attempt to dilute the RTI Act? The answer is NO!

In August 2013, the then government introduced a Right To Information (Amendment) Bill to remove political parties from the scope of the law. And currently, as per reports, no political parties are under the RTI Act and a case has been filed for bringing all political parties under it.

The Central Information Commission (CIC) held that the political parties are public authorities and are answerable to citizens under the Act. The CIC, reportedly, said that six national parties – Congress, BJP, NCP, CPI, CPI(M), BSP and BJD – have been substantially funded indirectly by the Central Government and have the character of public authorities under the RTI Act as they perform public functions.

If enacted, the amendments will indeed weaken the transparency law and RTI as a lever to ensure government accountability.

Contrary to diluting the law our governments must make it even more powerful and provide it with more teeth so that transparency prevails in the government and its institutions. The more the transparency, the better it is for the people of the country.

About the author: Author is Deputy Editor in India TV and tweets at @AnuragSason
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Disclaimer: The views expressed by the author are personal and do not reflect the opinions, beliefs and views of India TV.

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