The Parliament passed the Right to Information (Amendment) Bill, 2019 on Thursday, July 26, amidst intense protests by Opposition. It amends the Right to Information Act, 2005.
This Bill changes the terms and conditions of service of the Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) and Information Commissioners at the centre and in states and hits at the core of the office, it’s independence.
The amended Bill is will stifle the rights of citizens and is a threat to the Constitution and Parliament.
What did the RTI Act, 2005 do?
The RTI Act was introduced with the sole objective of empowering people, containing corruption, and bringing transparency and accountability in the working of the Government. The Right To Information Act mandates that timely response be given to any citizen who asks for it.
Under the RTI Act, 2005, Public Authorities are required to make disclosures on various aspects of their structure and functioning. Most bodies of self-government established under the Constitution, Ministries, public sector undertakings, any entities owned, controlled or substantially financed and non-government organisations substantially financed directly or indirectly by funds provided by the government fell under the ambit of the Act.
What does the Right to Information (Amendment) Bill, 2019, propose?
The Bill states that the central government will notify the term of office for the Chief Information Commissioner and the ICs. It also adds that the salaries, allowances, and other terms and conditions of service of the central and state CIC and ICs will be determined by the central government.
What did the RTI Act, 2005, say?
Under the previous Act, the (CIC) and Information Commissioners (ICs), both at the Centre and state, would hold office for a term of five years. The salary of the CIC and ICs (at the central level) would be equivalent to the salary paid to the Chief Election Commissioner and Election Commissioners, respectively.
Similarly, the salary of the CIC and ICs (at the state level) will be equivalent to the salary paid to the Election Commissioners and the Chief Secretary to the state government, respectively.
Why are these Amendments problematic?
This was a system, which was functioning without any issues since 2004. With these amendments, the government will decide the salary and stature of the Information Commissioners.
The Amendment, essentially, is to make the Information Commissions accountable to the government and is restricting the Commission’s autonomy. If passed, it will corrode the independence of the Information Commissions and weaken the RTI Act.
Currently, the Information Commissioners are not beholden to the government and can act fairly as the government has no say in fixing the term and salaries. The law, in its original form, has been a breakthrough in creating mechanisms and platforms for the practice of continual public vigilance that are fundamental to democratic citizenship.
This decision of the government means that it is trying to usurp powers of the legislative for itself and will translate into different commissioners having varied salaries, terms and statuses.