Even as the central government has confirmed that the matter regarding amendment in the Right to Information (RTI) Act is under consideration, the Department of Personnel and Training refused to provide details of the proposed amendment bill.
An RTI reply received by Anjali Bhardwaj this month from the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) said: "The matter regarding amendment in the RTI Act, 2005 is under consideration and has not reached finality. As per section 8(1)(i) of the RTI Act, 2005, information requested by you cannot be supplied at this stage."
Among the questions which were asked in the RTI application include: the date on which the proposal to amend the RTI Act, 2005 was prepared by the DoPT; the date on which the DOPT forwarded the proposal to amend the RTI Act, 2005 to the cabinet and the date on which the cabinet has taken a decision regarding the proposal to amend the RTI Act, 2005.
It also asked for a copy of the proposal to amend the RTI Act, 2005, prepared by the DOPT and a copy of the decision of the cabinet regarding the proposal to amend it.
Bhardwaj said under the Pre-legislative Consultation Policy (PLCP) of 2014, the government is supposed to put out all the legislations, policies etc that it is planning in the public domain for one month for consultation.
"The government is not wanting to make the amendment public at all. Unfortunately, we are finding that any amendment or laws that they are bringing in, there is no pre-legislative consultation on these. Even in the case of the Whistleblower's Protection Amendment Bill, they didn't put anything in the public. We filed an RTI application, but they didn't give us any information," Bhardwaj told IANS.
"From media reports, we got to know that an RTI amendment was being planned and there was an RTI Amendment bill. So, we filed this RTI to know the content of the bill. They have denied it to us," she added.
RTI activist Anjali Bharadwaj: “There is a powerful law in place. There is no need to make changes. Why is the government trying to tinker with the law and amend the law and dilute it. We need to know as citizens what is the government planning. They are not telling us”
Bhardwaj said there was a clause in the RTI Act Section 8(1)(i), which says that cabinet papers cannot be given under the RTI.
"But we didn't ask for cabinet papers, we have asked for what the DoPT has prepared and the date on which the proposal to amend the RTI Act was prepared. What is so secret about the date. They have denied all the information related to the amendment," she said, adding "The government has confirmed that it is planning to amend the RTI Act but has illegally refused to share details of the amendment bill in response to an RTI application."
Bharjwaj also said: "It has refused to even disclose the dates on which the proposal to amend the RTI Act was prepared by the DoPT and date on which it was forwarded to the cabinet by the DoPT, which cannot be covered under Section 8(1)(i)."
Expressing concern over the media reports that the amendment the government was planning to bring was regressive, Bhardwaj said: "What is worrisome is they are planning to reduce the stature of the Information Commissioners and weaken the Information Commissions in the country.
"At the moment, the salaries and allowances of the Commissioners are same as that of a SC judge. But, now the government will have the discretion to decide their salaries. That is very dangerous. It erodes the independence of the Commission.
"There is a powerful law in place. There is no need to make changes. What the government should instead do is appoint Information Commissioners. At the CIC, there are four vacancies and four more to come this year including the Chief Information Commissioner who is retiring. Why is the government trying to tinker with the law and amend the law and dilute it. We need to know as citizens what is the government planning. They are not telling us. Even this is hearsay. There might be more amendments also," she added.
Inputs by NH Web Desk