ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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The True Dangers of the RTI (Amendment) Bill

The proposed amendment to the Right to Information Act, 2005 has caused controversy around the institution of the Central Information Commission being weakened and undermined by the proposed changes. While there is reason for the anxiety, it arises not purely because of the text of the law, but the absence of proper justification for the amendments.

For the second time in two years, an attempt is being made by the union government to pass legislation to amend the Right to Information Act, 2005 (RTI Act), this time through the RTI (Amendment) Bill, 2019 (RTI Bill). The proposed amendments, in effect, give the union government the power to fix the tenure, salaries, and terms and conditions of service of the information commissioners (ICs), including the chief information commissioner (CIC) and the state information commissioners (SICs). The justifications offered by the union government, at least from what can be gleaned from the “Statement of Objects and Reasons” of the RTI Bill1 relates to removing “anomalies” with respect to the status of ICs, the CIC, and SICs. The specific anomaly highlighted in the statement of objects and reasons attached to the bill has to do with the fact that the RTI Act, as it was enacted, gave ICs a status equal to the chief election commissioner and election commissioners (ECs), which also puts them at par with judges of the Supreme Court insofar as salaries, allowances, and other terms and conditions of service are concerned. It is the government’s justification that the functions of the Election Commission of India (ECI) are very different from those of the Central Information Commission and state information commissions, and therefore the same need to be “rationalised.”

In response to this, fears have been expressed by activists (Roy and Dey 2019) and members of the opposition parties (Saha 2019) that this amendment poses an existential threat to the RTI Act. Congress leader Sonia Gandhi has alleged that the amendment has been proposed with a view to “destroy [the CIC’s] status and independence” (Hindu 2019). Two former CICs have argued that the bill may “kill” the RTI Act itself (Azad and Acharyulu 2019). They contend that the Central Information Commission and the state information commissions are not so different from the ECI, at least in terms of the importance of their constitutional duties, and the law had therefore rightly drawn equivalence between ICs and ECs in the context of their pay, allowance, and terms and conditions of service. They raise concerns about the text of the proposed amendments and the potential it holds for abuse.

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Updated On : 29th Jul, 2019

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