In an irony of sorts, the Delhi High court is set to take up the case of Prime Minister’s degree case at 2.15 pm on Thursday, July 25, just as the RTI Amendments Act is likely to be moved in the Rajya Sabha.
The case has been in the High Court since 2017 and at every hearing, the case gets postponed. “At some of the hearings, the Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for Delhi University, doesn’t come to court, sometimes the judge is absent and in some cases the SG’s team asks for the case to the postponed,” says Neeraj Sharma, the petitioner in the case.
The CIC had, in 2015, directed the Delhi University to allow inspection of records related to all the students who had passed BA degree in 1978, the year in which, according to the university, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had also cleared the examination.
The CIC had rejected the contention of the central public information officer of the university that it was a third-party personal information, saying it finds "neither merit, nor legality" in it.
Many believe that it is this degree case along with the RTI disclosure that Home Minister Amit Shah-helmed Ahmedabad District Cooperative Bank had the highest deposits of old Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes that were abruptly demonetised, that worked up the government as it underscored the corruption in the first Modi government.
With the latest amendments to the RTI Act, the BJP government intends to change the way the salaries and tenures of Information Commissioners (ICs) are fixed. “The government saying that instead of a fixed tenure of five years, subject to the retirement age of 65 years, the Central government will empower itself to decide what the tenue of the Information Commissioners will be. The second thing they are doing is that instead of the terms of services, allowances and salaries being at the level of the Election Commissioner, which is the same as a Supreme Court judge, the central government wants to usurp for itself the power to decide these,” points out Anjali Bhardwaj, the co-convenor of the National Campaign for People’s Right to Information (NCPRI).
These Amendments hit out at the independence of the institution and will weaken the RTI Act, which has been functioning without any issues for 14 years. “No government likes transparency and especially since this government came to power in 2014, all the vacant posts for Information Commissioners have been filled only after we went to courts,” explained Bhardwaj.